from the little-bit-of-4th-and-1st-implications-all-tied-up-together dept
It’s assumed (wrongly) that minors have few, if any, Constitutional rights. The error is easy to make because they’re just kids. They can’t drink, smoke, vote, or even serve their country/secure these own valuable freedoms by [checks sources] aiding in the increase of opium production in foreign countries. “Hundreds of government officials can’t be wrong!” someone is sure to exclaim, being just as wrong as the hundreds half-assedly cited in their stinging rebuttal.
Minors do have rights. They’re subject to more limitations but they’re far from nonexistent. But that doesn’t stop prosecutors, cops, and school officials from pretending “limited” equals “zero.” A case highlighted by FourthAmendment.com shows a court pushing back against this assumption, which took the form of an overly-invasive probation condition slapped on a minor following a search of the student which uncovered a small knife, rolling papers, and a lighter.
The incident leading to the search began when the student fell asleep during class, which is possibly one of the most ordinary things a student can do. The student admitted he had smoked marijuana the night before (also possibly one of the most normal things a high school student can do), but hadn’t smoked any that day or on school property. He was asked to consent to a search and he volunteered he had a knife in his possession. The search uncovered the rest of the “contraband.” The 15-year-old was then arrested, detained, and placed on home detention.
Had that been the end of it, there would have been nothing to write about. But the dispositional order dealing with probation conditions added a whole bunch of unnecessary stipulations given the violation. This occurred when the minor violated his probation conditions by using marijuana and Xanax. Subsequent violations occurred — all of them drug-related. A few months later, the minor appeared to be back on the road to the state’s good graces. He was doing well in school and had landed a job. For whatever reason, the state decided to punish the minor for getting his life back together. This hearing added stipulations that appear to be far more vindictive than curative, and they’re certainly anything but Constitutional. From the decision [PDF]:
In the report submitted for the September 7, 2016 dispositional hearing, without explanation, the probation officer recommended adding an electronics search condition.
Later the same day, the juvenile court judge issued a signed written disposition order, describing the electronic search condition in greater detail, using the following text, which probation had recommended: “[Minor must] submit all electronic devices under [his] control to search and seizure by the probation officer at any time of the day or night with or without a search warrant, arrest warrant, or reasonable suspicion, including all logs, text and voicemail messages, photographs, emails, and social media account contents contained on any device or cloud or internet connected storage owned, operated, or controlled by [Minor], including but not limited to cell phones, computers, computer hard drives, laptops, gaming consoles, mobile devices, tablets, storage media devices, thumb drives, Micro SD cards, external hard drives, or any other electronic storage devices. [Minor] shall also disclose any and all passwords, passcodes, password patterns, fingerprints, or other information required to gain access into any of the aforementioned devices or social media accounts as requested by any probation officer . . . .”
The minor challenged this order on constitutional grounds, citing its needless violation of his privacy. Given the state’s unwillingness to specify which of the offenses these conditions addressed, the court finds the minor has a solid point.
We agree with Minor that the electronics search condition imposed here is unconstitutionally overbroad because it is not narrowly tailored to achieve its ostensible purpose or to meet Minor’s needs. […] Any connection between Minor’s offenses and his usage of electronic devices is speculative and, absent such evidence, the electronics search condition is not tailored to meet Minor’s specific needs.
As the court points out, there are less intrusive ways of achieving the same ends and it’s highly unlikely blanket search permission for every single electronic device owned by the minor is the least intrusive option. It’s also unlikely blanket search permission would somehow prevent the minor from obtaining drugs or alcohol.
Not only that, but the state’s arguments for this supposed necessity ignored evidence showing more probation stipulations weren’t needed to keep the minor from engaging in criminal activity.
In an interview with probation before the September 2016 dispositional hearing, Minor acknowledged having made poor decisions in the past, but stated he had new motivation to complete treatment and probation going forward, and that he had a new job, which was making a positive impact on his life.
Minor’s statements about his mindset were supported by his school’s report that it had no concerns with Minor’s behavior, that Minor arrived on time, completed all of his work, was “doing great,” and was “exhibiting a positive attitude.” Minor’s mother and his treatment program provided similar accounts. This information does not support the conclusion that only by subjecting Minor to a new, exhaustive, and invasive search condition—allowing probation to review every electronic device under his control, including any “gaming consoles, mobile devices, tablets, storage media devices, thumb drives, Micro SD cards, [and] external hard drives” and to access all of his “passwords, passcodes, password patterns, fingerprints, or other [similar] information”—could Minor be deterred from future use of controlled substances.
That strikes these conditions from the minor’s probationary terms, restoring the privacy the state tried to take from him. The state insisted on defending this Constitutional violation despite having zero precedential support to cite. The closest it could come to a prior case in its favor involved a gang member who promoted his gang and its activity on social media when not using those platforms to issue threats to police officers and their families. That’s not even close to the same level of severity in observed behavior. As the minor notes in his case, the state AG didn’t even provide evidence the minor owned any of the devices the state decided it needed access to. But when you’re playing Constitutional poker with someone else’s money, why not take a flier on bullshit probation orders?
Filed Under: electronics, fifth amendment, fourth amendment, probation, probation violations, teens, warrantless searches