School Searches Safford v. Redding

Assistant Principal Wilson had heard from another student that 13-year-old Savana Redding had been giving out prescription-strength pain relief pills. Safford School District had a strict policy against the use, sale, or distribution of prescription drugs without administrative permission. Assistant Principlal Wilson showed Redding a planner that contained several knives, a lighter, and cigarettes. Redding admitted that it was her planner, but that she had lent it to a friend. After searching through Redding’s belongings, they did not find any evidence of any medicine. They decided to  conduct a strip search where Redding had to pull her bra and underpants out to show that nothing was hidden in there. Nothing was found in this search either.

Redding’s mother filed suit against the Safford School District on the grounds that the strip search violated her daughter’s 4th Amendment rights in regard to unreasonable searches and seizures.The Supreme Court ruled that the search did violate the 4th Amendment of the Constitution because there was no reason to suspect that the “drugs presented a danger or were conceal in her underwear.”

Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the court. He cited the case of New Jersey v. TLO which dealt with searches at schools. A search at school must not be “excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.” This is the standard that I have the hardest time with in this case. Redding is a 13-year-old girl, and she was probably terribly embarrassed having to take off her clothes in front of the school nurse.

This video is an interview with Savanna Redding that describes her personal experience with the search.

Additionally, there was not enough reasonable evidence in my opinion for this search. The assistant principal heard from another student, Marissa Glines, that the pills were from Redding. The only other evidence that the assistant principal had to go on was that the day planner belonged to Redding as well. There was no indication in the planner that Redding had any medication. The faculty did not take enough time or care to determine any alternative motives of Glines for blaming Redding. Based on the totality of the circumstances and the specific facts of the case, I agree with the opinion of the Court that this search was a violation of the 4th Amendment.

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