Teacher Could Not Remember Names Of Informants Providing Tips About A Student’s Drug Possession

Here’s WHAT HAPPENED:  A teacher reported to a vice principal that student JNY was in possession of two marijuana pipes.  The teacher. Ms. Collins, could not remember the names of the informants, only that they included a couple of students and a couple of teachers.  Collins went looking for JNY but she was not in her assigned class.  Collins then reported the incident to vice principal Jackson.  While outside at the end of the day Jackson saw JNY on the loading dock, waiting for her bus.  He said there was nothing unusual or suspicious about her appearance or speech at this time.  He took her back to the office and asked her to empty the contents of her purse.  At first she refused.  Jackson said if she did not comply, he would be forced to call the police.  She removed the contents of her purse and among them were two marijuana pipes.  The police were called, JNY was read her Miranda Warnings, admitted to possession of the two pipes and was charged with  possession of a controlled substance.opd85f_2.thm

JNY was convicted at trial.  She appealed and her conviction was reversed by the higher court, meaning she was not guilty.  The court held that because  teacher Collins could not remember the names of the persons who provided the tips, this made the information she gave to Jackson was unreliable.  Accordingly,  there were no specific facts (called “reasonable suspicion” ) to support  Jackson’s decision to detain, question and search JNY about drugs (or anything else).    For this reason, the search violated JNY’s Fourth Amendment rights.  Because it was an illegal search the two pipes recovered from JNY’s purse could not be used as evidence  against her in court, so her conviction was reversed.

School Take Away Tip:   School officials here did not have the names of persons providing the tips.  Legally this meant that BEFORE they acted,  school officials  had not produced the threshold level of “reasonable suspicion” evidence needed  to conclude that JNY was violating either school rules or the law.    BEFORE THEY ACT….SCHOOLS NEED TO BOTH INVESTIGATE AND REVIEW FACTS to see if “reasonable suspicion” evidence exists.   School officials should make notes  about “what happened” and review those notes before acting.  This is true because, later at  a suspension or expulsion hearing or in a courtroom prosecution, school witnesses must be specific and  present facts that establish  “reasonable suspicion” existed to detain the student in the first place.

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