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The Impact of the Exclusionary Rule in School Discipline Hearings

Public school students are provided Fourth Amendment rights under the Federal Constitution to be free of illegal searches and seizures by school authorities. The lower courts have not been able to agree on the appropriateness of the exclusionary rule on school discipline hearings. As shown, there are valid concerns both for and against the use of the exclusionary rule in the school disciplinary setting.

 Providing children with an education is one of the government’s most important functions, and because of this, the government has to make a commitment to keep those students they so urge to attend school safe.  These students should be free both from danger and the risk of unreasonable searches in school.

One primary concern for any school administrator is having a safe school. Often this means removing material from the school that is illegal or considered dangerous. This must be done carefully in order to not infringe on a students’ Fourth Amendment rights of due process. However, more times than not, this is done without criminal prosecution of the student, rather the discipline is handled at the building level. When there is a search and school officials confiscate illegal material, the material may be handed over to law enforcement officials. The question then raised is this: Can illegal material seized by school officials in a student search be used in a criminal prosecution?

The exclusionary rule came out of the court case Weeks v. United States in 1914. The U.S. Supreme Court established that material seized without proper legal means, could not be used in federal courts or in federal prosecutions. This case came to be known as the Weeks doctrine and it set the precedent that from thereafter, evidence or material obtained in any way other than proper legal procedures would be excluded from federal trials. The question rose again in the state of Colorado in the year 1949 in the case of Wolf v. the People of the State of Colorado. Since this was at the state level and not the federal, a new decision would have to be made. The courts decided that the exclusionary rule did not apply in this case because of it being at the state level. The court argued that other action could be taken to render the illegal searches of police as null and void.

In 1961, the Supreme Court case of Mapp v. Ohio reversed the decision of the Wolf case, and expanded the Weeks decision, now known as the exclusionary law. The court held that illegally seized material resulting from searches would be banned from state court cases. It was because of this case that the exclusionary rule gets exercised frequently in public school court cases. Generally, the courts allow confiscated material by school officials to be used in the criminal prosecution hearings. This means that the exclusionary rule is not being applied. However, some federal district courts have held that the exclusionary rule should apply to the school disciplinary hearing to assure protection of the student’s constitutional rights.

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