The Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday will hear a case that will determine how and why students in Ohio public schools can have their personal property searched. It’s a case that’s been moving through the courts since 2013 when an 18-year-old Columbus-area high school student had his bags searched at school.
Joshua Polk wound up facing a gun possession charge for having a weapon on school property. How that gun was discovered, though, two judges have ruled, was illegally, and as a result, the gun has been thrown out as evidence in the case for Polk’s gun possession charge.
Here’s the issue: A school security officer found Polk’s bag on a school bus. The officer is allowed an initial search to discover the bag’s owner. The security officer conducted that initial search but then after recognizing Polk, thought he may be a gang member. That inclination led to a second, illegal search, judges say, where 13 bullets were discovered inside the same backpack.
Then, Polk himself and another bag in his possession were searched by school officials, and that third search turned up the gun.
School officials can actually search a locker or book bag, just based on reasonable suspicion; they don’t need a search warrant like police do lawyers explain because students have limited privacy at school. The burden of proof is much higher for law enforcement than school officials.
However, Polk’s attorneys and two rulings thus far, have confirmed that everything following the initial search of Polk’s backpack was illegal and that the school security guard did not have reasonable suspicion, in the form of a tip, or a clear indication that Polk was a danger to his classmates.
“Even if it was unreasonable the state of Ohio says when it comes to school officials, even if they do unreasonable searches, the property that they may find, in this case, the gun should not be excluded from the trial of Mr. Polk and should be introduced. At this point, because the gun has been excluded because the search was determined to be unreasonable, they obviously don’t have a case now against Mr. Polk and that’s what they’re trying to pursue,” said Jeff Hastings, a Cleveland criminal defense attorney.
Franklin County Prosecutor, Ron O’Brien is reported in the Columbus Dispatch as saying common sense and the law are both on their side and that ultimately a weapon was found, saying of the searches, “they did what you would want them to do if you were a parent.”