Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Judge Carlos Murguia believes that it is acceptable to strip search a high school student based on an uncorroborated tip

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Case: S.S. v. TURNER UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT #202, Case No. 12-CV-02346-CM (D. Kansas, December 14, 2012)

What happened: A student (not named in the opinion) told school officials that plaintiff (also a student, 15 years old) had put marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia* in her brassiere. Based on the tip, and nothing more, the school strip searched plaintiff and found nothing of evidentiary value. Plaintiff sued.

Decision: QI for the school officials because the school was deemed to have “reasonable suspicion” based on the uncorroborrated tip.

Criticism: One might be inclined to criticize Judge Murguia’s opinion based on its use of the (extremely low) “reasonable suspicion” standard. I am going to make a different criticism. I don’t think that an uncorroborated tip meets “reasonable suspicion,” at least absent some reason, articulable by the tipster, as to why he believed the object placed in the bra really was paraphernalia, and not some innocent object.

Another criticism: The tipster, because he or she was a minor, is effectively confidential. Judge Murguia’s opinion states, in a footnote, that the student-tipster could be held accountable, but, at the same time, declines to name the student-tipster. I suspect that the student-tipster could not, and would not, as a practical matter be counted upon to make plaintiff whole for the extreme indignity of the strip search due to the student-tipster’s tender age (which is, of course, why Judge Murguia fails to provide us with the name of the student-tipster). As such, the student-tipster should be treated as a confidential informant and the court should have required corroboration in order to meet reasonable suspicion, which corroboration was absent in this case.


* Judge Murguia does not clarify how one could mistake marijuana for marijuana paraphenalia or vice versa. If the tipster could not specify then how did the tipster know that the object allegedly stuffed into the bra was marijuana-related at all? Judge Murguia’s opinion is no help on this point.

Written by Burgers Allday

January 19, 2013 at 8:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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