Constitutional Law: Juvenile Rights and Public School Searches

 

UNDER 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1983) A STUDENT MAY SEEK DAMAGES FOR A SEARCH CONDUCTED By PRIVATE PERSONS WHO WERE ACTING JOINTLY WITH PUBLIC SCHOOL OFFICIALS AND WHO HAD No REASONABLE BELIEF THE STUDENT POSSESSED CONTRABAND. Kuehn v. Renton School District, 103 Wn. 2d 594, 694 P.2d 1078 (1985).

A standing controversy in the juvenile justice system surrounds the issue of whether there is a justified basis for exception of fourth amendment rights as applied to public school searches. In Kuehn v. Renton School District, the Washington Supreme Court relied on prior state and federal cases to justify the general use of the “reasonable suspicion” standard for school searches and adhered to a rigid “reasonable suspicion” guideline established in a prior Washington case. More recently, however, the United States Supreme Court has adopted a broader standard for determining the reasonableness of a search by school authorities. Since the Washington Supreme Court based its “reasonable suspicion” standards solely on federal precedent, future restrictions placed on Washington school officials conducting student searches may not be as stringent as those adhered to in Kuehn.

State holdings which are grounded in federal law are subject to review by the federal courts. The Kuehn holding was based upon three separate analyses; 1) whether the case was moot under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1983), 2) whether school officials act under “authority of law,” and 3) what the standard for determining “reasonable suspicion” is. The court used federal precedent to resolve the first and third analyses, and independent state law to resolve the second analysis. Because of the court’s use of federal precedent, the impact of the Kuehn decision on future Washington cases may be modified by recent and future U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

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Cheryl L. Harner, Constitutional Law: Juvenile Rights and Public School Searches, 21 Gonz. L. Rev. 285 (1985).

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