State v. Meneese, (86203-6) 8/2/12
SCt (7-2) held that a search of Meneese’s locked backpack by a Student Resource Officer (SRO), i.e. a fully commissioned, uniformed Bellevue Police officer, was not permitted even under the more relaxed “reasonable suspicion” standard for school searches after T.L.0., 461 U.S. 341.
Meneese was found by the SRO during a routine check of the bathrooms at Robbinswood High School standing over a sink with a bag of marijuana in one hand and a medicine vial in the other. The officer seized the MJ and escorted Meneese, with his backpack, to the dean of student’s office. He placed Meneese under arrest and requested a patrol unit pick Meneese up for booking. The SRO became suspicious that Meneese’s backpack might contain more contraband and when Meneese said he didn’t have the key to unlock it, he was searched, the key was found in his pocket and a search of the backpack reveal a BB gun (i.e. a dangerous gun on school grounds).
SCt concludes the T.L.O. school search exception did not apply to the search of the locked backpack in light of the overwhelming indicia of police action. The SROs had no authority to administer school discipline, suspensions or expulsions. T.L.O. allows a “school official” to search a student’s person if, under all the circumstances, the official has a reasonable suspicion. The act of arresting and handcuffing Meneese was not that of a “school official,” however, since they don’t have the power to do either.
Stephens and J Johnson dissent on the theory that “schools are special environments.”