- Evan M. Howard
Vashon High School Violates Students Rights
The Missouri Appeals Court just ruled a high school employee violated a student’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The school was Vashon High School located at 3035 Cass Avenue in St. Louis. The student was Charles Williams. The story:
Williams arrived to school approximately 30 minutes late. On arrival, Vashon’s school-safety employee, DeAndre Duncan, met Williams at the front door. Duncan ordered Williams to remove his shoes, remove all items out of his pockets and walk through a metal detector. After Williams walked through the metal detector, Duncan then proceeded to perform a hand search of Williams. Without finding anything on Williams, Duncan was “suspicious” that Williams had something on his person that didn’t belong in the school. With nothing more than suspicion, Duncan brought the student into the security office and demanded him to hand over everything he had on his person.
The student then pulled out a plastic bag with a white rocky substance. Duncan then handcuffed the student and called authorities. I find it interesting that a high-school safety officer has the authority to handcuff a student!
Williams was charged as an adult with one count of possessing a controlled substance; a Class C Felony under RSMo. § 195.202. Waiving his right to a jury trial, Williams moved to suppress the drug evidence that was found in the search. The judge denied Williams' motion and sentenced him to three (3) years in prison. Williams appealed that decision, and won.
The central issue was the search performed by Duncan and if that search was unreasonable and a violation of Williams’ Fourth Amendment Rights to the Constitution. While searches in a school and by school officials have a more relaxed standard than what is otherwise required under the Fourth Amendment, the Appeals Court ruled the search of Williams was unreasonable.
Duncan testified he performed the search based upon the school’s policy. While all students are required to walk through a metal detector when entering the school, students whom arrive late by 30 minutes or more require an additional “hand check” before entering.
The Court stated the mere tardiness of a student does not establish a level of reasonable suspicion which would allow school officials to search students and therefore unconstitutional. Because Williams passed through the metal detector without an alert, there was no genuine safety concern allowing an additional search.
Because the search of Williams was found to be in violation of his Constitutional Rights, the evidence found on his person should have been excluded under a theory of Fruit of the Poisonous Tree. Any evidence found during an illegal search is inadmissible in a court of law. William’s trial court decision was reversed and remanded for a new trial. In his new trial, the evidence of the drugs will not be admissible and in turn the charges will more than likely not be refiled.
If you were arrested and you feel it was an unreasonable search and seizure, contact Howard Law at (314) 833-3505
About The Author
Evan M. Howard is the managing attorney for Howard Law, a St. Louis business law and criminal defense law firm based in Clayton, Missouri. Howard Law is focused on giving honest, quick and effective representation to all of its clients. With a background in business and experience dealing with tough criminal prosecution cases, Howard Law is ready to help guide you through your legal matter.