A local Houston teenager is facing criminal charges after he was arrested for bringing a gun and drugs into a high school in his backpack.
Teenager Arrested for Having Gun and Drugs in Backpack
The arrest happened on Wednesday, April 25, 2019, at the Austin High School in Houston, Texas.
According to the initial reports, high school staff found a pistol and drugs inside an 18-year old boy's backpack and called the police. When the police came, they quickly arrested the boy.
The boy is now facing a criminal charge for firearm possession in a school zone, a third-degree felony that can carry up to ten years in jail if it leads to a conviction.
No drug charges have been filed, yet.
Why No Drug Charge?
The fact that the student has not been charged with drug possession, yet, could mean that law enforcement is still testing the substance that was found in his backpack. When suspicious substances are confiscated, and there are questions about what they are, police are supposed to treat it as potential evidence and have it tested in the lab – a process that can take a few days.
However, there is also the distinct possibility that the student was well within his rights to have the drugs that were found. Many drugs, even those defined by the Controlled Substances Act, can be legal to possess with a valid prescription from a doctor.
When Does Searching a High School Student's Backpack Violate His Rights?
Perhaps more important is the fact that the student's backpack was searched at all. Students have a right to privacy and, more importantly, they have Fourth Amendment rights at school that can be violated by the staff. The 1985 Supreme Court case New Jersey v. T.L.O. made it clear that the “unreasonable searches and seizures” that law enforcement could not do to U.S. citizens also could not be done by school officials to students.
However, it should come as no surprise that, in the modern world of school shootings, the Fourth Amendment rights of high school students are not as robust as the rights the rest of us experience. A more recent case, Safford Unified School District v. Redding, ruled that school officials only need a “reasonable suspicion” of wrongdoing to search a student for evidence. That suspicion has to be reasonable in light of all of the circumstances, including the severity of the student's alleged conduct.
Importantly, this stops short of the probable cause that would be needed in non-school situations.
Drug Crime Defense Lawyer Doug Murphy
The case highlights the twofold job of a criminal defense attorney, especially in alleged drug crimes:
- challenge the facts, and
- raise a suspect's constitutional rights.
School staff and the police probably claimed or assumed that the drugs were contraband – providing a prescription would challenge that spin on the facts.
The student also has a right to privacy in the backpack and raising Fourth Amendment rights could exclude the evidence that was found if a judge determines that those rights were violated.
Doug Murphy is a drug defense lawyer in Houston. Contact him online or call his law office at (713) 229-8333 for help.
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