Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Bullets in Book Bag Lead to Controversial Student Search

Image of blue backpack on a park bench

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear whether school employees who search students’ belongs are bound by the same Fourth Amendment requirements as police officers during next week’s oral arguments.

Image of blue backpack on a park bench

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear whether school employees who search students’ belongs are bound by the same Fourth Amendment requirements as police officers during next week’s oral arguments.

When school employees search students, are they bound by the same Fourth Amendment requirements as police officers, and do they face the same consequences of having evidence barred for use in a criminal trial if the search was illegal?

The Ohio Supreme Court will consider these questions when it hears oral arguments in the case of Joshua Polk, who was a student at Whetstone High School in Columbus when a school security worker found Polk’s book bag left on a school bus. The search of the bag turned up bullets and led school officials and a police officer to search Polk, who had a gun in a different bag he was carrying.

Polk was charged with possessing a deadly weapon in a school safety zone. He asked for the gun to be suppressed from the evidence in his trial. The trial court agreed the gun was discovered as a result of a search that violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizure, and the judge barred its admissibility.

In the appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office argues that the search was legal because school officials aren’t bound by the same standards as police officers when it comes to searching students. The prosecutor also maintains the exclusionary rule, which kept the gun from being used as evidence, doesn’t apply to searches by school employees.

Polk and the prosecutor have different views on how to interpret the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1985 New Jersey v. T.L.O. decision regarding searches by school officials, with Polk finding the high court said the exclusionary rule applies. The prosecutor maintains the issue was never directly addressed in the case, and, moreover, neither the U.S. nor the Ohio Supreme Court has ever addressed the issue in any case.

Case Draws National Attention
The question has drawn the attention of school officials and youth advocates nationwide. Friend-of-the-court briefs have been submitted by 25 individuals and organizations. Among the submissions is a joint brief from six of Ohio’s largest educational groups, which includes the Ohio School Boards Association and the Ohio Education Association, which banded together to support the prosecutor.

A joint brief siding with Polk was submitted by 15 youth law organizations operating coast to coast. The groups include the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, the Los Angeles-based Center for Juvenile Law and Policy, and Professor Barry C. Field, a University of Minnesota Law School professor who has written 10 books and more than 100 articles on juvenile justice that have been cited in more than 100 state and federal court decisions.

Oral Arguments
State v. Polk and three others will be considered on March 1, the second of two days of oral arguments. Four cases will considered on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Arguments on both days will begin at 9 a.m. at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus and will be streamed live online at and broadcast live on The Ohio Channel.

Previews Available
Along with the brief descriptions below, the Office of Public Information today released previews of the eight cases.

Tuesday, February 28
These four cases will be heard on Tuesday:

A large energy company received Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) permission to recover $55.5 million it spent to clean up contaminated land where former manufactured gas plants used to operate in Cincinnati. The plants started operations in the 1800s and closed more than 50 years ago. Consumer and industrial groups indicate Ohio law only allows costs associated with land that is “used or useful” in rendering utility service to be passed on to customers. The remediated plant sites have played no role in serving current customers, they contend in In re Application of Duke Energy Ohio Inc.

Appeals of Ohio Industrial Commission decisions to grant injured workers benefits follow a non-traditional path. A Cleveland-area manufacturer appealed a ruling in favor of an injured worker to a common pleas court, where the injured worker was required to file the appeal and carry the burden of proof to show the injury was related to work. During an employer appeal, the employee receives workers’ compensation benefits. The injured worker dismissed his case with the intent to refile it within one year, which effectively increased the time to receive benefits before the case went to trial. The company argues state law requires the worker get the employer’s permission to dismiss the case without prejudice. In State v. Ferguson, the injured worker challenges the employer permission requirement.

Two Dayton teenagers were accused of robbery and kidnapping while using a gun during a skipped day of school, and both cases were transferred to adult criminal court. A jury convicted one teenager, who was sentenced to 19 years in prison. His co-defendant took a nine-year prison term in a plea bargain. In State v. Anderson, the teen who went before a jury argues his sentence was impermissibly harsher than his co-defendant’s because he chose to exercise his right to trial. He also contends the state’s criminal law imposing mandatory sentences is unconstitutional when applied to juveniles because the sentencing judge can’t consider an offender’s youth.

Two Portsmouth men were charged with aggravated menacing and felony ethnic intimidation, all stemming from a single 2014 incident. The city prosecutor arranged a plea bargain for the men in municipal court, and the two agreed to plead no contest to misdemeanors in exchange for the prosecutor dropping the felony. The Scioto County prosecutor then charged the men with felonies, and the two sought, and won, dismissal of the charges, alleging charging them violated the “double jeopardy” clause of the U.S. Constitution. In State v. Mutter, the Court will consider a claim that the municipal court didn’t have jurisdiction to drop a felony charge without notice to the county prosecutor.

Wednesday, March 1
In Bohlen v. Anadarko E&P Onshore LLC et al., a Washington County couple signed a lease with an oil and gas company that had a “delay rental” provision requiring the company to pay the landowners $5,500 for each year it delayed drilling. The lease also stated if the company didn’t pay the fee the contract terminated. A lease addendum required the company to pay the couple at least $5,500 annually in “royalty” payments. The company hasn’t paid $5,500 for several years, and the couple argues that a royalty payment and a delay rental mean the same thing. The Court will consider if the two types of payments are not related and whether the lease was terminated.

A man was charged with drunk driving after a Highway Patrol trooper stopped him near Cleveland. The trooper questioned the driver, had the driver move to the front seat of the patrol vehicle for additional questioning, and then conducted field sobriety tests. Concluding that the driver was in police custody once in the trooper’s car and should have been read his Miranda rights, the trial court excluded the driver’s statements and the field sobriety test results as possible evidence. At issue in Cleveland v. Oles is whether the questioning in the trooper’s vehicle during a traffic stop was a custodial interrogation that requires law enforcement to read Miranda rights to a suspect.

At the center of State v. Bembry is Ohio’s knock-and-announce statute, which requires police to knock, identify themselves, and state their purpose when forcibly entering a premises with a warrant. Boardman police went to an apartment with a warrant to conduct a search based on suspicion of drug trafficking. Before forcing their way into the apartment, the police didn’t announce their purpose, so the trial court excluded the evidence found during the search. The pair who was charged in the case argue that a search and seizure in violation of a state law infringes on state constitutional rights and the evidence from the search must be suppressed.

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