If you read this blog regularly, you know that we spend a fair amount of time in this space discussing the law as it applies to searches and seizures, whether it's at a home, in a car or on the street. As Florida's Third District Court of Appeals explains in R.M. v. State, the rules surrounding these issues change when the search takes places at a school.
R.M., a minor, was determined delinquent after an incident in which he was found carrying a gun on the campus of his Dade County school. According to the Court, a young student at the school told an administrator that he'd seen three older students examining a gun in a school bathroom. The witness described the person holding the weapon as a tall, thin African American boy with a dark complexion and "a low 'afro' haircut." The witness also said that the person was wearing a red school polo shirt and skinny jeans and that he was carrying a backpack with a cartoon character on it. The school later said that there were roughly 60 black male students in the high school levels and that the described hairstyle, book bag and manner of dress were not common among those students.
The school's principal and its police officer checked R.M.'s classroom for the suspect and noticed that he fit the description. R.M. admitted that there was a gun in his backpack when the principal took it. He was arrested and charged with three gun possession charges. A trial judge denied R.M.'s motion to suppress the gun evidence at trial, in which he argued that there was not reasonable suspicion for the principal and police officer to seize his bag based on the suspect description. The trial court later found R.M. delinquent on all three counts.