There’s Been Alot Of “Drug Talk” Around Case

Here’s WHAT HAPPENED:  A school staff member approached Ms Baldwin, a school administrator, and told her there had been a lot of drug talk by students attending a special education program that day.  The staff member did not elaborate, mentioned no names and provided no details of drug possession, use or sale by any specific students.  Based on Baldwn’s experience she believed “drug talk” among students  meant some students were using drugs.  At this time the students attending this program were not in the classroom.  Baldwin decided to search the backpacks they left in the classroom.  The stated purpose of the search was to enforce school rules prohibiting contraband.  In a backpack belonging to a student named BMT she  found pills (Tylenol with codeine) in a plastic bag.  BMT admitted owning the backpack but denied the pills were his.   He was charged with possession of a controlled substance and fond guilty.  He appealed and his conviction was reversed.000803_1071_3289_v__v.thm

In reversing his conviction the higher court said  the report of increased “drug talk” among students did not raise to the level of reasonable suspicion to justify searching BMT’s backpack.  The search was based on nothing more than a  hunch.  There were no specific facts leading to the reasonable conclusion that BMT or any student was violating a school rule or law prohibiting drugs.     The talk about drug use was not attributed to any particular student(s). including BMT.   The information provided by the staff member did not provide any clue as to where drugs may have been found.  Based on the information she had, Baldwin possessed no facts to justify searching the backpack.   Accordingly, the search was illegal and it violated BMT’s rights .  The recovered pills could not be used in court as evidence against BMT so his conviction was reversed.

Baldwin’s past experience is an important factor during an investigation because it tells her what to look for.  But,  her past experience is not a fact that demonstrates  any violation has taken place on the day in question.  Simply stated, her past experiences alone did not provide facts sufficient to justify looking in BMT’s backpack, so the search was illegal.  Also,  stating the purpose of the search was to “enforce the school rules”  had no legal effect.  The statement did not  provide facts helping to establish  “reasonable suspicion” to begin enforcing the rules in the first place.


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