High Court Considers Reasonable Search Question in Drug Case - Sparrow Law Firm

Supreme Court justices in North Carolina are reviewing arguments in the case of a teenager whose bra was searched at school. The young woman, who was suspected of drug crimes, was taken into a room, asked to untuck her shirt, and made to show school officials her bra straps during a physical search.

School leaders had received tips that students at her alternative school, which is primarily designed for those with behavior and drug problems, had been smuggling illegal substances in their undergarments. The search revealed that the student had been carrying prescription drugs and other drug paraphernalia. Students at the school regularly are examined by metal detector, and they must submit to daily searches of their outer clothing.

School officials are concerned that the ruling in this case could have implications for future actions in a variety of academic settings. The court is considering the fundamental question of just how far searches should go in schools by attempting to define what a strip search entails. The court is also considering whether a bra-lifting technique, during which no skin is exposed, constitutes intrusive searching.

Although the school argued that the young woman was not required to show any skin, officials acknowledge that two men were present during the search. The student sued after the incident, and an appeals court ruled that the search was degrading and inappropriate. Attorneys for the school argue that they must maintain a safe environment for students, which sometimes requires somewhat invasive searches. Students at the alternative school have been found in possession of weapons and other illegal items, officials say, which should allow them to be subject to different rules.

The court is expected to hand down its decision before summer.

Source: News & Observer, “NC Supreme Court justices hear student bra search case,” Anne Blythe, Feb. 13, 2012