Teen's Strip-Search Goes to High Court

By chillinwill · Apr 13, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    SAFFORD, Ariz. - April Redding was waiting in the parking lot of the middle school when she heard news she could hardly understand: Her 13-year-old daughter, Savana, had been strip-searched by school officials in a futile hunt for drugs.

    It's a story that amazes and enrages her still, more than six years later, though she has relived it many times since.

    Savana Redding was forced to strip to her underwear in the school nurse's office and expose her breasts and pubic area to prove she was not hiding pills prescription-strength ibuprofen, equivalent to two Advils.

    "I guess it's the fact that they think they were not wrong, they're not remorseful, never said they were sorry," April Redding said this week, as she and Savana talked about the legal fight over that search, which has now reached the Supreme Court.

    And even more: When, days later, the principal met with April Redding to discuss what had happened, she said he was dismissive of an event so humiliating that her daughter never returned to classes at Safford Middle School.

    The lawsuit carries the potential for redefining the privacy rights of students and the responsibility of teachers and school officials charged with keeping drugs off their campuses.

    Matthew Wright, the school system's lawyer, said in a statement he regrets the news media's "reflexive reaction" to the case and underscored the dilemma school officials face between privacy and protection.

    "Unfortunately, this tension sometimes places school officials in the untenable position of either facing the threat of lawsuits for their attempts to enforce a drug-free policy or for their laxity in failing to interdict potentially harmful drugs," he wrote.

    To which Savana Redding's lawyer, Adam Wolf of the American Civil Liberties Union, replied: "The school official here heard an accusation that Savana previously possessed ibuprofen at some unknown location at some unknown time and jumped to the conclusion that Savana was presently storing ibuprofen and that she was storing it against her genitalia.

    "It should be self-evident that that search is wrong."

    But the federal judges who have reviewed the case have not been so sure.

    The full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled that the search violated Savana's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and that Vice Principal Kerry Wilson could be found personally liable for ordering the search.

    Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw reached back to a previous court decision for the quote that has come to define the case: "It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a thirteen-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights of some magnitude."

    On the other hand, it apparently stumped other constitutional scholars. The first judge who heard the Reddings' case agreed with the school system that the search was justified because of accusations that school officials had heard about Savana. He threw out the suit. A divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld that decision.

    And while eight judges on the circuit eventually ruled the search was unconstitutional, several of the judges said Wilson could not have been expected to navigate the shifting legal standards for when such searches are allowed.

    "Searches are often fruitless, and students' motives are often benign, but teachers, unlike courts, do not act with the benefit of hindsight," wrote Judge Michael Daly Hawkins.



    A 1985 Supreme Court decision said school officials need to have only reasonable suspicions, rather than probable cause, to search individual students. That case involved the search of a purse, but the justices cautioned against a search "excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction."

    Author: Robert Barnes
    Source: Spokesman-Review, Page A3
    Pubdate: Sun, 12 Apr 2009

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  1. blipblop
    That is just ridiculous. Two pills? Legal medications? I hope they sue for millions.
  2. DopinDan
    Based on the above two paragraphs, it sounds like the school decided they had a right to strip search a 13 year old, based on hearsay about some ibuprofen.

    Can anyone say Nanny State?
  3. HomerK
    This kind of shit is ridiculous. The government is getting way out of control with these searches. I guess it's a good thing they're raising our children to believe that they have no rights. :mad:
  4. chillinwill
    WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court seemed worried Tuesday about tying the hands of school officials looking for drugs and weapons on campus as they wrestled with the appropriateness of a strip search of a 13-year-old girl accused of having prescription-strength ibuprofen.
    Savana Redding was 13 when Safford Middle School officials, on a tip from another student, ordered her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear looking for pills. The district bans prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

    Her lawyer argued to the Supreme Court that such a "intrusive and traumatic" search would be unconstitutional in every circumstance if school administrators were not directly told the contraband was in her underwear.

    "A school needs to have location-specific information" to put a child through such an embarrassing search, lawyer Adam B. Wolf said.

    Would it be constitutional if officials were looking for weapons, or drugs like crack, meth or heroin? "Does that make a difference?" Justice Anthony Kennedy asked. No, Wolf replied.

    That leaves school administrators with the choice of embarrassing a child through a search or possibly having other children die while in their care, Justice David Souter said. "With those stakes in mind, why isn't that reasonable?" Souter said.

    Wolf said school officials violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches. School officials didn't bother to search her desk or locker, or even question additional students to find out if anyone thought Redding could be hiding drugs in her underwear, he said.

    "There needs to be suspicion that the object is under the clothes," Wolf said.

    A 1985 Supreme Court decision that dealt with searching a student's purse has found that school officials need only reasonable suspicions, not probable cause. But the court also warned against a search that is "excessively intrusive."

    A schoolmate had accused Redding, then an eighth-grade student, of giving her pills.

    Vice Principal Kerry Wilson took Redding to his office to search her backpack. When nothing was found, Redding was taken to a nurse's office where she says she was ordered to take off her shirt and pants. Redding said they then told her to move her bra to the side and to stretch her underwear waistband, exposing her breasts and pelvic area. No pills were found.

    A federal magistrate dismissed the lawsuit Redding and her mother, April, brought, and a federal appeals panel agreed that the search didn't violate her rights. But last July, a full panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the search was "an invasion of constitutional rights."

    The court also said Wilson could be found personally liable.

    The school's lawyer argued that the courts should not limit school officials' ability to search out what they think are dangerous items on school grounds. "We've got to be able to make decisions," lawyer Matthew Wright said.

    But justices worried that allowing a strip search of school-age children might lead to more intrusive searches, like body cavity searches. "There would be no legal basis in saying that was out of bounds," Souter said.

    Redding, now a 19-year-old college freshman living in her hometown of Safford in rural eastern Arizona, took her first airplane ride to watch the arguments. "It was pretty overwhelming," she said, standing before a bank of cameras and a few dozen reporters outside the building.

    by Jesse J. Holland
    Apr. 22, 2009 12:00 AM
    Associated Press
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