The Florida appellate court recently backed the right of the police to conduct a search of student and his book bag based on an anonymous tip that the student was carrying a gun. In its opinion, the court gave “substantial weight” to “protecting students from gun violence” in holding that the search was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The Miami-Dade police received an anonymous tip at its “gun bounty” program, which informed them that a student at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, identified by name, possibly had a gun in his possession at school. Based on this information, school security took possession of the student’s book bag, handed it to the school’s SRO, who searched and found a loaded semi-automatic handgun.
At his trial, the student sought to exclude the gun from evidence as an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion to exclude. On appeal, the Florida appellate court upheld the trial court decision. The court wrote that “an anonymous tip like the one at issue may not constitute a sufficiently reliable indicator that a crime was occurring to justify a search of [the student] by police officers on a public street. However, the level of reliability required to justify a search is lower when the tip concerns the possession by a student of a firearm in a public school classroom.”
The appellate majority noted that the anonymous tip identified a specific student at a specific school, and thereby limited the discretion of school officials concerning who could be searched.
The Florida court’s decision is in keeping with the 2000 decision of the US Supreme Court inFlorida v. J.L., which opinioned that public safety officials may conduct searches in areas where there is a diminished expectation of privacy, such as airports and schools, which may not be justified elsewhere.