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Eye On Boise

Idaho court upholds schoolyard search of 18-year-old smoker’s car

The Idaho Court of Appeals has upheld a 2009 warrantless search of an 18-year-old high school student's car in a school parking area, which turned up a marijuana pipe and brass knuckles and led to misdemeanor drug and weapon charges, because the student, Joseph Voss, was at school smelling of cigarette smoke and tobacco products are banned on school grounds. The court rejected an appeal  arguing that because Voss was legally of age to buy tobacco products, the search was flawed.

“There is no question that the assistant principal had reasonable suspicion that Voss was violating the school policy,” wrote appeals court Judge Sergio Gutierrez for a unanimous court. “Voss was on school grounds, smelled of cigarettes, and had driven his car to school that morning. As Voss did not have cigarettes on his person, an obvious and customary place to also look was Voss’s vehicle.” You can read the decision here; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Appellate court says school's search of car OK 

By REBECCA BOONE,Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The Idaho Court of Appeals says a Boise high school student's rights were not violated when school officials decided to search his car for tobacco products.

An assistant principle said Joseph Voss Jr., 18, was at school smelling of cigarette smoke, according to court documents. The school has rules barring tobacco products on campus.

An on-campus police officer searched Voss' vehicle and found a marijuana pipe and brass knuckles inside. Voss was charged with misdemeanor drug and weapon violations.

In his arguments to the Idaho Court of Appeals, Voss said the search never should have happened because at age 18, Voss was legally able to buy and use tobacco products. His attorneys argued that the school's policy prohibiting an adult student's possession of tobacco on school grounds was flawed.

But in a ruling handed down last week, the appellate court disagreed, saying the policy was rational and properly applied.

In his appeal, Voss attorney John Meienhofer contended that the policy shouldn't be applied in a way that prohibits the possession of cigarettes in an adult student's car.

"An unreasonable search of a child can result, at worst, in a juvenile court involvement. An unreasonable search of an adult student brings about the involvement of the adult criminal justice system, which may follow him the rest of his life," Meienhofer said in court documents.

But prosecutors noted that the tobacco policy was applied to all students at the school, including 18-year-olds.

The appellate court found the school was justified in deciding to search and that the search was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances.

Schools have an interest in swiftly enforcing the policies that maintain the order and safety of the educational atmosphere, the court noted ― and so schoolyard searches are held to a different standard than other searches.

"As such, the assistant principal could justify the search of Voss's vehicles on school grounds based solely on reasonable suspicion that Voss was in possession of tobacco in violation of school policy ― even if it would not otherwise constitute a crime," Judge Sergio Gutierrez wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

The ban on tobacco products wasn't arbitrary, since most high school students are underage and can't legally possess tobacco, the court found, so the rule was rational.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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