Student Overheard Talking About “Big Bags” Justified Vehicle Search For Drugs

Here’s WHAT HAPPENED:  Officer Richardson, the school safety officer, testified in court that during the lunch period he was outside in the school’s common area.  He was about 3-4 feet away when he observed Michael approach another male student.  He heard Michael tell this other student that he had some “big bags.”   Michael did not see Richardson at the time he was talking.  But the other student did see Richardson and began to waive Michael off, shaking his head as if saying “no, not now.”  Richardson went to see the principal, Mr. Steel and told him what he overheard and saw.  Both men knew the phrase “big bags” was a slang term teenagers used to refer to marijuana.  Steele told Richardson to bring Michael in for questioning.000803_1080_6818_v__v.thm

In the office Michael emptied his pockets and no drugs or paraphernalia were found.  Because Michael had car keys in his pocket, they asked him if he had driven to school that day, and he said yes.  The school manual permitted a search of a student’s person, backpack, locker or vehicle.   Accordingly, Richardson searched his car, finding marijuana and a pipe in the glove compartment.

Michael was charged with possession of a controlled substance.  In court, he claimed  his statement about  having “big bags”  did not constitute reasonable suspicion that he was violating a school rule or a criminal law prohibiting drugs.  He said “big bags” could refer to something legal.  The court disagreed, saying what Richardson saw and heard provided him with reasonable suspicion.  This meant Richardson could detain, question and search Michael about possession of drugs.  Secondly, Michael contended that after finding no drugs on his person, Richardson improperly expanded the search to his vehicle.  This meant the scope of the search was  illegal.  Because the scope of the search was illegal,  the marijuana and pipe recovered could not be used as evidence at trial. Again, the court disagreed with Michael, holding the car search was reasonable in scope and did not violate Michael’s rights.     Here the search was not a “witch hunt”  but was limited  to those locations where students may be hiding drugs, such as pockets, purses, lockers, backpacks and vehicles.  Since the search was legally reasonable in scope, there was no violation of Michael’s Fourth Amend rights and the  recovered marijuana and pipe could be used as evidence in court.



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