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Do high school students have criminal defense rights?

On Behalf of | Aug 30, 2021 | Criminal Defense

High school students do not lose their Fourth Amendment rights to privacy and against unlawful search and seizure when they attend school. Knowing these rights can be important when students are investigated or arrested for drug violations or other crimes.

Police searches

The Fourth Amendment prevents the police and other government agents from searching student property unless they have probable cause that the student engaged in a crime. Police may not search a student unless they have a warrant signed by a judge or they are arresting the student.

Students should not resist a police search of themselves or their vehicles. However, they should tell the police they do not consent to the search.

Police may also frisk a student if they suspect that the student possesses a weapon. If they feel a weapon during the frisk, police can search the student.

Police questioning

Miranda rights also apply to schools. Students may remain silent during police questioning. Any statement made by a student may be used against them in a prosecution or school disciplinary action.

Students should provide their name and address and say that they want to speak to their parents and a lawyer. Police must then stop their questioning.

Privacy rights

Students possess less privacy rights in school than the outside. They still possess the right to remain silent if they are questioned by school officials but have less protections against search and seizure by school officials.

Although it may be appropriate to answer a few innocent questions to clear up a misunderstanding, students should remain silent if they believe that a teacher or other school official suspects them of committing a crime and questions them. When this occurs, students should not explain, lie, or confess because those statements may be used against them. They should ask to speak to their parents or a lawyer.

Unlike police, school officials may conduct a warrantless search of a student when they have reasonable grounds for believing that the search will disclose evidence that the student violated the law or a school rule. School officials, however, must a good reason that particular student, not just any student, violated the law or a school rule and their search must be restricted to that particular student.

Searches must also be conducted in a reasonable manner based upon the student’s age and what they are looking for. School staff, however, can search school property used by the student without notice such as their desk, locker or school issued-technology.

Strip searches or searching beneath a student’s clothing is not illegal in Texas. But searching underneath a student’s clothing is impermissibly intrusive unless the school official reasonably believes that the object of their search is dangerous or likely to be hidden in the student’s underwear. Given the obvious legal risks involved with these searches, many Texas school districts ban strip searches.

Drug or alcohol tests

These tests constitute a search under the law. The school official must have reasonable suspicion that the student may be using drug or alcohol. These tests must also be reasonable in scope and not excessively intrusive. Typically, officials first search the student and their possessions if they suspect drug or alcohol use.

School districts may conduct random testing of student athletes on a routine basis. Students have a lower privacy expectation because changing and showering in locker rooms and other behavior is routine in athletics. They also voluntarily consent to other school regulations that do not apply to other students.

Students’ rights often depend on the circumstances of a particular case. But a school arrest or disciplinary action can have long-term consequences. An attorney can help assure that student’s rights are protected at school.