A federal district court has thrown out the search of a Virginia student’s cellphone by school administrators looking for evidence of illegal drugs. It was apparently the first time a search of a school cellphone has come under scrutiny since a June decision by the Supreme Court which gave Fourth Amendment protection to cellphone contents. Although the court disallowed the cellphone search, it did allow a pat-down search and a search of the student’s pockets, shoes and backpack.
Officials at the Hermitage High School had received reports that a “longhaired student” had smoked marijuana on a morning school bus. That afternoon the student was brought to the office where his pockets, backpack, shoes and cellphone were searched. The court found that school officials had justification at the inception of the search. Additionally, it found that the search of the student’s backpack, shoes and pockets were all reasonable in scope because drugs could have been hidden in those places.
However, in Gallimore v. Henrico County School Board, District Court Judge John Gibney held that the search of the student’s cellphone “exceeded the scope of a reasonable search initiated to find drugs.” Unlike the other places and items searched, the cellphone could not have contained drugs, and thus was not “reasonably related to the objective of the search.” Judge Gibney wrote that “common sense dictates that a school administrator cannot claim to look for marijuana and then look through a student’s cell phone.” The Gallimore court’s decision did not cite the recent Supreme Court decision, instead relying on existing precedent and principles concerning student searches.