A student was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance after cocaine was found in his pocket at school. He was convicted and appealed the conviction. The issue on appeal is whether or not the district's school safety employee violated the student’s right to be free of an unreasonable search when the cocaine was found.

At trial, the evidence showed that the student was searched and forced to remove items from his pockets after he arrived 30 minutes late to school with a group of other young men. The group was instructed to remove their shoes and all items from their pockets as they came through the front door. They were then required to go through a metal detector and were subjected to a pat down. When the school safety employee attempted to pat down the student in question, he told him to stop. The student was brought to the security office, where he was directed to remove the items in his pocket. When he removed a white “rocky substance” in a plastic wrapping, the police were called and the student was taken into custody.  

The school safety officer testified that he searched the student according to school policy. All students were required to pass through a metal detector to enter the school. But students who were late to school were subjected to a pat down. The reason for this policy is that there was a lot of drug activity and violence in the neighborhood, which generated suspicion of students who arrived late. The school safety officer testified that he conducted a pat down of the student because he was following this policy.

The court of appeals found that the search of the student was illegal and overturned the conviction. Whether a public school official’s search of a student is unconstitutional depends on the reasonableness of the search under all circumstances. In order for a search to be reasonable, it must be justified and the search conducted must be reasonably related to the circumstances that justified the search. This means that a search can only be conducted if there is a moderate chance of finding evidence of wrongdoing. In this case, the fact that the student was late did not mean that a search of his person was justified, absent any other indicators that the student had done anything wrong.

The court also found that the school’s policy of searching tardy students was not reasonable. There was no evidence to show that the drug problem in surrounding neighborhoods had impacted the school, and no evidence linking tardiness at school to participation in drug activity. In making this finding, the court stated that it was not suggesting that these types of policies are always unconstitutional. However, the school must be able to justify the reasons for the policy in light of the circumstances that the school faces, so that it can justify the need to intrude on students’ rights in order to protect other students and staff.

This case was not decided in Texas and is not binding on Texas courts. However, it is likely that a Texas court would apply a similar analysis in a case like this.