Divided 3rd DCA Says Tip Enough To Search Backpack

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Thomas Logue

A divided state appeals court Thursday rejected arguments that a Miami high school student's constitutional rights were violated when his book bag was searched after police received an anonymous tip that he was carrying a loaded gun.

Miami Northwestern Senior High School officials found a loaded, semi-automatic handgun in the book bag Oct. 12, 2011.

The student, identified in the ruling by only the initials K.P., received 15 days in secure juvenile detention and one year of probation because of the incident.

In an appeal to the Third District Court of Appeal, the student argued that evidence of the gun should have been suppressed because of a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. The argument focused heavily on the fact that an anonymous tip led to the search.

But District Judge Thomas Logue, in a 2-1 decision, concluded the search was reasonable in protecting the students at school.

"Admittedly, the tip at issue in this case may not be sufficient to have justified a stop and frisk of K.P. for weapons on a public street (much less an outright search of his book bag) because it may not contain sufficient indicia of reliability reflecting that K.P. was actually carrying a firearm," wrote Logue. He was joined in the majority opinion by Chief Judge Frank Shepherd. "But the circumstances supported reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing in the context of preventing the threat of gun violence in a classroom."

Judge Linda Ann Wells, in a dissenting opinion, said the anonymous tip was not legally sufficient to justify searching the book bag, though it was enough justification to remove the student from class and question him and examine the outside of the bag.

"Had such actions been taken and resulted in information or observations which would reasonably support a determination that K.P. either had been or was violating the law or school rules, then a search of K.P.'s backpack would have been justified from its inception," Wells wrote. "Because none of this took place before K.P.'s backpack was searched, the warrantless search of K.P.'s backpack was not reasonable under the circumstances and K.P.'s motion to suppress should have been granted."

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