Book Bag Search Did Not Violate Student’s Rights, Ohio Supreme Court Rules

The Ohio Supreme ruled today that the warrantless 2013 search of a student's backpack was constitutional. The case stemmed from an incident at Whetstone High School in Columbus. On February 5, 2013, a bus driver found a book bag that had been left on the school bus. Per policy, he gave it to the school Safety and Security Resource Coordinator, Robert Lindsey. Lindsey opened the bag and saw items with Joshua Polk's name on it. Recalling rumors that Polk was involved in gang activity, Lindsey took the bag to the principal, Mr. Barrett. They emptied it and found bullets. At that point, they called a police officer and went looking for Polk. Upon finding him in the hallway, the police officer restrained him while Lindsey searched the bag. The search yielded a handgun. Pole was arrested and charged with possession of a deadly weapon or dangerous ordinance in a school zone. 

Polk filed a motion to suppress arguing that the search was a violation of the fourth amendment, and that the gun should be rejected as fruit of the poisonous tee. The trial court granted the motion, and the the court of appeal affirmed the decision.  The state appealed arguing: "(1) A search is constitutional if it complies with a public school’s reasonable search protocol. The subjective motive of the public-school employee performing the search is irrelevant. (2) The sole purpose of the federal exclusionary rule is to deter police misconduct. As a result, the exclusionary rule does not apply to searches by public-school employees. (3) Suppression is proper only if the deterrence benefits of suppression outweigh its substantial social costs."

The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Tenth District's opinion. Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote. "These warnings are reflective of school shootings and bomb threats and, more generally, terror attacks that have occurred in this country. Lindsey testified that Whetstone’s protocol requiring searches of unattended book bags to identify their owners and to ensure that their contents are not dangerous was born of these concerns. Therefore, Whetstone’s protocol supports the compelling governmental interest in public-school safety by helping to ensure that the contents of the bags are not dangerous and in turn that Whetstone’s students remain safe from physical harm."  You can access the opinion and Court News Ohio's analysis here.