Supreme Court Rules that Strip Search of 13-year-old Student was Unconstitutional
This week, the United States Supreme Court upheld (8-1) an Arizona state court decision that the strip search of a 13 year old girl by school officials who were looking for prescription-strength drugs violated her constitutional rights. After hearing from another student that Savana Redding was carrying prescription-strength drugs on campus, the principal made Savana wait outside of his office for two hours, and then ordered two female school officials to strip search her. The officials asked her to take off her clothes and examined her underwear. No pills were found.
Based on Supreme Court interpretations of the U.S. Constitution in the past, school officials are given some latitude to search the property (such as a backpack or outer clothing) of a student suspected of carrying drugs or weapons due to the special need at schools to protect the health and safety of other students. But in making the student strip and in searching her undergarments, the Supreme Court ruled, the school violated the student's Fourth Amendment privacy rights because the search was unreasonable. The court suggested that the search might have been reasonable in other circumstances where illegal drugs were involved or where there was stronger evidence that the drugs were in her underwear.
The Supreme Court's decision sends the case back to the lower courts to determine what damages should be paid by the school district. The Supreme Court has also ruled that the individual officials in the case should not be liable because the law at the time of the search did not show that they had clearly violated the constitution.
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