Strip Search Of Female Student For Pills Held Unconstitutional

Here’s what happened.  Based on a tip, school officials detained and searched a female student named MG.   The search produced blue and white pills.  Under school policy, students could not possess these types of pills without prior written approval, which MG did not have.     When asked where she got the pills MG said a 13 year old female student named SR gave her the pills.  The principal went to SR’s math class and had her come to the office.  She denied knowing anything about the pills and agreed to let them search her pockets, purse and book bag.   The search produced no pills or drugs.     At this point school officials took SR to the nurse’s office to search her clothing for the pills.  Two female assistants had SR remove  her jacket, socks and shoes, leaving her in stretch pants and a T-shirt, which they asked her to remove.  Finally SR was told to pull out her bra and shake it.  She was also asked to pull out some elastic on her underpants.  This search resulted in SR exposing both her breasts and her pelvic area to some degree.  No pills were found.   Her mother filed a civil action against the school district alleging the “strip search” violated SR’s privacy rights.  This civil case went to the US Supreme Court which, in 2009 ruled in SR’s favor.

The court said the tip school officials received that SR had pills was reliable.   Searching her outer clothing, purse and book bag did not violate her privacy rights.    Even though the original detention and search were both based on reasonable suspicion, the “strip search” of her bra and pants that followed the first search  violated her right to privacy.   The court specifically found both the scope and manner of  this second search  violated SR’s privacy rights.    As to the SCOPE of the second search,  the Court  said it was legally unreasonable because school officials produced no new facts to justify going beyond the first search.  As to the MANNER of this under garment search, the Court held it was legally invasive because it was in effect a “strip search.”   The court held the school officials were entitled to qualified immunity from personal liability relating to the search.    Note:  On the criminal law side of this case – Even if school officials had found  pills in her undergarments, the pills MOST LIKELY could not have been used as evidence in a Juvenile Court Prosecution of SR for possession of a controlled substance.  Under these facts, a Juvenile Court could have easily found the pills to be the product of an unlawful search prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

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