Ohio Supreme Court: backpack searches fair game on school property

In the interest of protecting children, school officials can search students’ bags on school property without first obtaining warrants, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Students have a diminished expectation of privacy at school because school officials have an obligation to keep them safe, which requires an easing of the regular limitations on searches, the court concluded.

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In February 2013, a Columbus Whetstone High School bus driver found student Joshua Polk’s book bag left on the bus and turned it over to Robert Lindsey, a school safety coordinator, who peeked into it and found notebooks, books and a binder and Polk’s name. Lindsey had heard rumor that Polk was in a gang so he took the bag to the principal’s office where they searched it thoroughly and found bullets.

Lindsey, a school police officer and the principal found Polk in a hallway, searched another bag he was carrying and found a gun. Polk was charged with a weapons violation. At trial, he argued that the search was unconstitutional so the discovery of the gun was inadmissible. The trial court and 10th District Court of Appeals agreed. But the Franklin County prosecutor appealed the matter to the supreme court.

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The high court took into account deadly shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and Virginia Tech University and determined that school security is a fundamental value.

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Whetstone High’s search of unattended bags to identify their owners and make sure the contents aren’t dangerous is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled.


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