The Search and Seizure Law | When Does It Apply?
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects its citizens by placing limits on the power of law enforcement to search people and their property, seize objects, or make arrests. These checks and balances are put in place to ensure that we as American citizens have the right to a certain degree of privacy. The Fourth Amendment protects us against any unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, both state and federal law enforcement. If there is probable cause of a crime committed, or a Judge has issued a warrant, police may override your right to privacy and conduct a search of you or your property. As long as an individual has a legitimate expectation to privacy, the Fourth Amendment applies and is there to protect you. Unfortunately, the meaning of what is written in the constitution and it’s amendments, is up to interpretation. Unreasonable, and legitimate expectation to privacy can mean completely different things to two individuals. This is where the important role of the judicial branch of the government comes in; to interpret the law as it is written.
Appeals Court Decision
The Third District Court of Appeals determines in R.M. v. State, the Fourth Amendment’s provided protection, does not apply when in the setting of a school. According to the Court, a fellow student at Mays Conservatory of the Arts School told a school administrator he witnessed three students messing around with a gun in the bathroom. The student also supplied the administrator with a detailed description of the person holding the gun; He was a tall, skinny, African American male with a low “afro” haircut, who appeared to be an upper-classman. His clothing was also described; He was wearing a red school uniform shirt with dark “skinny jeans”, and he held a book bag with a cartoon character on it. The school later told the Court that there were about 60 black male students at the school, and emphasized the fact that his hairstyle, his book bag, and the way he was dressed was uncommon among the rest of the school population.
Once the Administrator received this information, he immediately informed the school resource officer and the principal. Along with the police officer, the school principal found R.M., who happened to meet the description. The principal asked if there was anything illegal in his bag. After admitting there was a gun in inside, the principal took the bag, and retrieved the gun from inside. RM was arrested and charged with three different gun-possession charges.
R.M filed a motion to suppress evidence of the gun and his statements, claiming no reasonable suspicion existed to allow the search because the description supplied by the student was broad and generalized, and could have matched any of the other 60 African American students at that school. The court denied this motion to suppress, and later found R.M. to be guilty of all three counts; R.M then appealed this ruling.
The Third District Court of Appeals upheld the original, claiming the search is allowable as long as it is reasonable under the circumstances. To back their decision, the Court quoted the 1985, U.S. Supreme Court Decision in TLO v. New Jersey: “The constitutional protections afforded students at school are not the same as those provided to adults in the general public because the school is a unique setting that requires a balancing of the privacy interests of schoolchildren with the substantial need of teachers and administrators for freedom to maintain order in the schools…”. Due to the specific nature of the description of the suspect, the search was reasonable.
Quoting from the Third District Court of Appeals, “We therefore find that the school officials’ actions in this case were entirely reasonable under the circumstances, particularly given the relaxed constitutional protections in a school setting and the grave danger posed by a potentially armed student on campus.” Furthermore, the witness’s description was deemed credible by the fact that he was a fellow student, who came forward to the principal and police officer with his own free will.
If you or someone you know has been charged with firearm possession or any other juvenile offense, contact the South Florida Criminal Defense Attorney at Kenneth Padowitz, P.A. to discuss this important matter. Located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we provide aggressive representation throughout the region, including Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Parkland. Call us today for a discrete initial consultation.