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Appeals court considers backpack searching, privacy case

When it comes to the legal right to protection from search and seizure, we often consider DUI or criminal defense cases relating to adults - but what about children's rights to privacy? An appeals court in Ohio is now considering that very issue by evaluating the legality of a backpack search at a high school that yielded the discovery of bullets and a gun. The court needs to determine whether the search complied with the "reasonable suspicion" standard traditionally used at schools - a less-stringent standard than the "probable cause" bar that is set for issues outside of educational environments. The case is currently being considered by the state supreme court after prosecutors decided to fight the criminal appeals court decision.

The situation under consideration happened in 2013, when a security official searched a backpack that was found on a bus. That man knew that the bag's owner was suspected of having gang ties. He found 13 bullets inside the bag when he dumped out its contents.

An appeals court in Franklin ruled that the search was not justified because the suspicion against the student was only "rumor," not substantiated evidence. A three-judge panel determined that even though the student was suspected of being affiliated with the gang, he did not necessarily commit a crime or deserve to have his personal belongings searched. Prosecutors in the Ohio Supreme Court argue, though, that the 18-year-old student forfeited his right to privacy when he left his bag on the school bus.

Young people in our state should still enjoy constitutional protection of their rights. Legal groups argue that too many students are referred to police each year because it is easier to turn them over to law enforcement personnel than to protect their constitutional rights. A criminal appeals process can promote protection of these defendants' rights in Ohio.

Source: The Washington Times, "Ohio court considers privacy rights in backpack search," Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Feb. 25, 2017

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