The Large Marijuana Cigarette Case

This Pennsylvania case has not been finally decided by the courts, so it is not on the law books.    The trial court ruled a male student named CK could sue the school district for invasion of privacy for searching the contents of his cell phone.  This  unreasonable search could be a violation of CK’s  Fourth Amendment rights.  Remember, this case is not final so do not take this decision as binding.  Check with your attorney.

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED:  The school policy permitted students to carry cell phones, but not to display or use them during the day.  While in class CK’s phone fell out of his pocket accidentally and came to rest on his leg.  The classroom teacher confiscated his phone.   At this time no school official had any information that CK was violating any school rule or law.   In the office a teacher and assistant principal began making calls on CK’s phone, calling nine students listed in his directory.  They talked to his brother, not identifying themselves as school officials.  Next the looked at his text messages and found one from CK’s girlfriend asking him to get her a “tampoon of marijuana.”  Among teenagers the term “tampoon” meant a large marijuana cigarette.  School officials said this message prompted them to investigate possible drug use at school.   CK was not suspended  or charged with a drug violation over the incident.  He sued the school for invasion of privacy because the school officials reported to news outlets he was involved in drug activities.    The legal problem here was the school officials had no facts to show “reasonable suspicion” that CK was violating a school rule or law.  In other words, they had no legal reason to search the contents of  his cell phone, so their action could be an invasion of CK’s privacy rights.000803_1066_1115_v__v.thm

School board attorneys in one state have approved the searching of a student’s cell phone contents in a drug investigation.  They said that before detaining a student,  school officials must have facts showing  REASONABLE SUSPICION that the student involved may be violating either school rules or laws prohibiting use, sale, possession or distribution of drugs at school.   In The Large Marijuana Cigarette Case presented here, school officials were not in possession of any facts to justify searching the contents of CK’s phone.  For this reason the school district had to defend itself in a civil action seeking money damages for invasion of privacy.


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