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Whether a particular search is reasonable depends on a balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion. In balancing students' privacy interests with the governmental interests in promoting a safe learning environment, searches of students by public school officials must be based on a reasonable suspicion that the student or students to be searched have engaged, or are engaging, in a proscribed activity, that is, a violation of a school rule or regulation or a criminal statute. There must be articulable facts supporting that reasonable suspicion. Neither indiscriminate searches of lockers nor more discreet individual searches of a locker, a purse, or a person can take place absent the existence of reasonable suspicion. Respect for privacy is the rule, a search is the exception.
Defendant 16-year-old student was observed by assistant principal carrying a bulging calculator case. Defendant balked at assistant's principal's request that he turn case over and was escorted to office. Contents of case were revealed to be marijuana, leading to a finding of violation of Cal. Health & Safety Code and wardship under Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 602. On appeal, defendant argued that the search and seizure by an assistant principal violated his constitutional rights.
Was the assistant principal’s search of defendant’s calculator case conducted in violation of the latter’s constitutional rights?
On appeal, the court reversed, holding that the assistant principal's search of defendant's calculator case was conducted illegally and that the evidence obtained from the search was inadmissible in proceedings in juvenile court through application of the exclusionary rule. The court viewed U.S. Const. amend IV as requiring the application of a balancing test whereby the student's interest in privacy was weighed against the competing interest of the assistant principal, a state actor, in promoting a safe learning environment. The court articulated a "reasonable suspicion" standard and determined that it had not been met in circumstances presented. As well, the court recognized Cal. Const. art. I, § 13, as being an independent source for a minor student's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.