|Title||Ski Trip Gone Awry|
|Preview||A case where students were caught with illegal substances on a school sanctioned trip and subsequently prosecuted in court.|
Ski Trip Gone Awry
About thirty high school students and nine staff members of Bishop Stang High School, a Catholic school in Fall River, Massachusetts, were on a school-sponsored ski trip to Jiminy Peak Resort in the town of Hancock, Massachusetts. Four students stayed in each room.
The students knew that they had to abide by certain rules, such as giving their room key to a chaperone each morning and not being in their room during the day without a chaperone. The school's student handbook had three stipulations that were relevant to this case: (1) school personnel had the right to inspect "any locker at any time if the administration believes that the content of any locker is not in the best interests of the school"; (2) "any tobacco, drugs, alcohol, or other illegal substances will be confiscated and dealt with appropriately"; and (3) "all school rules apply on all field trips."
One of the chaperones on the trip learned that some students had been to their room unsupervised, and decided to check on them. She and another chaperone retrieved the room key and proceeded to the room. The three defendants [Keith Considine, Caleb Tripp, and Jeffrey Rogers] and the younger brother of Tripp were in the room ... and were reluctant to leave. Once the boys finally agreed to "go out skiing," everyone left the room.
The chaperones decided to "check" the boys' room and used the key to open the door. They and the school principal searched the room thoroughly, opened containers and bags, and found "numerous items of contraband," including alcohol and lighters. Two clay pipes were found in a search of trash that had been removed from the room. The boys were summoned, and when they were ordered to empty their pockets, [the older] Tripp "handed over" marijuana and a clay pipe, and Rogers "handed over" a small container of marijuana. Hotel security was notified and the head of security ... responded and ordered the boys to put their belongings in a pile. Each made admissions, with Tripp admitting possession of the cocaine. The hotel security officer called the state police. Trooper Jones arrived, advised Tripp of his rights, and had just begun a conversation with Tripp when attorney Considine, defendant Keith Considine's father, called and instructed "them" not to talk. All questioning then ceased.
The three older boys "were charged with one count each of possession of a class B substance, possession of a class D substance, and being a minor in possession of alcohol."
When the boys appeared in a state lower court, their attorneys argued that the search of the boys' room by school officials was prohibited by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and that, therefore, "reasonable suspicion" was required to support the search:
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, in pertinent part: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...."
Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights states in pertinent part: "Every subject has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches, and seizures, of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions."
The judge agreed and based his reasoning on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985), "which held that public school officials searching students' persons and effects act in a public capacity, as agents of the state, and are therefore subject to the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule." In a school setting, the officials needed to "act only reasonably in the circumstances-that is, they must have reasonable suspicion, rather than probable cause, to support a search." If a search is not conducted under these circumstances, any evidence found during a search must be suppressed or excluded from the court case.
The judge concluded that there is no logical reason for the rights of public school students to differ from those of private school students, stating that "both attend the school of their choosing under the same [state mandates that compel attendance]." Accordingly, he determined that the "reasonable suspicion" standard of New Jersey v. T.L.O., supra, applies both to public and to private school searches and that that standard had not been met here. The judge also determined that the statements made to the hotel security official and to the state trooper were "uninterrupted fruit of the poisonous tree." ... Accordingly, he suppressed the physical evidence and the statements.
The Commonwealth wanted the criminal charges against the boys to stand, so it appealed the case to a higher court. Was the search permissible? Is there a difference between the searches done by public school officials and private school officials? You be the judge.
Commonwealth v. Keith Considine (and two companion cases), 448 Mass. 295, 860
Answer: You Be the Judge
|Download||Ski Trip Gone Awry|