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Press Release: U.S. Supreme Court Declares Strip Search Of 13-Year-Old Student Unconstitutional

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 6/25/09 CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; U.S. Supreme Court Declares Strip Search Of 13-Year-Old Student Unconstitutional Ruling In ACLU Case Is Vindication of Students' Constitutional Rights WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old Arizona girl when they strip searched her based on a classmate's uncorroborated accusation that she previously possessed ibuprofen. The American Civil Liberties Union represents April Redding, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, whose daughter, Savana Redding, was strip searched by Safford Middle School officials six years ago. "We are pleased that the Supreme Court recognized that school officials had no reason to strip search Savana Redding and that the decision to do so was unconstitutional," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU who argued the case before the Court. "Today's ruling affirms that schools are not constitutional dead zones. While we are disappointed with the Court's conclusion that the law was not clear before today and therefore school officials were not found liable, at least other students will not have to go through what Savana experienced." Savana Redding, an eighth grade honor roll student at Safford Middle School in Safford, Arizona, was pulled from class on October 8, 2003 by the school's vice principal, Kerry Wilson. Earlier that day, Wilson had discovered prescription-strength ibuprofen - 400 milligram pills equivalent to two over-the-counter ibuprofen pills, such as Advil - in the possession of Redding's classmate. Under questioning and faced with punishment, the classmate claimed that Redding, who had no history of disciplinary problems, had given her the pills. After escorting Redding to his office, Wilson demanded that she consent to a search of her possessions. Redding agreed, wanting to prove she had nothing to hide. Wilson did not inform Redding of the reason for the search. Joined by a female school administrative assistant, Wilson searched Redding's backpack and found nothing. Instructed by Wilson, the administrative assistant then took Redding to the school nurse's office in order to perform a strip search. In the school nurse's office, Redding was ordered to strip to her underwear. She was then commanded to pull her bra out and to the side, exposing her breasts, and to pull her underwear out at the crotch, exposing her pelvic area. The strip search failed to uncover any ibuprofen pills. "The strip search was the most humiliating experience I have ever had," said Redding in a sworn affidavit following the incident. "I held my head down so that they could not see that I was about to cry." The strip search was undertaken based solely on the uncorroborated claims of the classmate facing punishment. No attempt was made to corroborate the classmate's accusations among other students or teachers. No physical evidence suggested that Redding might be in possession of ibuprofen pills or that she was concealing them in her undergarments. Furthermore, the classmate had not claimed that Redding currently possessed any pills, nor had the classmate given any indication as to where they might be concealed. No attempt was made to contact Redding's parents prior to conducting the strip search. In response to today's ruling, Redding said, "I wanted to make sure that no other person would have to go through this, so I am pleased by the Court's decision. I'm glad to have helped make students feel safer in school." The case, Safford Unified School District v. Redding, was appealed from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found the strip search to be unconstitutional. A six-judge majority of the appeals court further held that, since the strip search was clearly unreasonable, the school official who ordered the search is not entitled to immunity. In today's Supreme Court decision, despite deeming the strip search of Redding unconstitutional, the Court found that the school officials involved are immune from liability. The decision leaves open the possibility, however, that the Safford Unified School district could be held liable. "Neither the Constitution nor common sense permits school officials to treat a strip search the same as a locker or backpack search," said Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU's national Legal Director. "Today's ruling eliminates any confusion that school officials may have had about this seemingly obvious point." The ACLU and ACLU of Arizona were joined in the case by Bruce Macdonald, with the law firm McNamara, Goldsmith, Jackson & Macdonald, and Andrew Petersen, with the firm Humphrey & Petersen. In addition, a broad constellation of adolescent health experts and privacy rights advocates filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Redding, including the National Education Association, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), CATO Institute, Rutherford Institute, Goldwater Institute and Urban Justice Center, among others. Today's decision is available online at: The ACLU's brief in the case is available online at:

Drug Testing: Random Suspicionless Drug Tests Suffer Double Smackdown in Louisiana

Two separate efforts to impose random suspicionless drug testing on different groups in Louisiana have failed -- one thanks to a court challenge, the other thanks to politics. The outcomes should mark an end to the hubbub over drug testing in the Bayou State in recent months, but, knowing Louisiana's political class, that may not be the case.
drug testing lab
In the first defeat, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board entered into a consent decree with the local Federation of Teachers and the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) agreeing not to subject teachers to drug testing without particularized suspicion. The teachers and the ACLU had earlier filed a lawsuit against the school board over its policy of requiring any teacher who suffered an injury on the job to take a drug test, regardless of any suspicion he or she was intoxicated.

The case revolved around one-time East Baton Rouge teacher of the year Peggy Reno, who was punched by a student in September 2008. Although there was no suggestion or suspicion that she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the school board required her to take an invasive drug test.

"The Constitution rightly requires that such invasive searches be based on reasonable suspicion," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU. "Public servants, like all of us, cannot be made to prove their innocence when there is no evidence that they have done anything wrong."

"In this case, both common sense and the Constitution called for a change in course," said Katie Schwartzmann, an attorney with the ACLU of Louisiana. "It is a waste of time and money, not to mention a gross violation of educators' rights, to drug test without suspicion."

As if that weren't enough of a slap-down, a bill before the legislature that would have required the drug testing of welfare recipients was killed Monday on an 11-5 House Appropriations Committee vote. The bill's sponsor, Rep. John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie), had argued that his proposal could save the state money from long-term health problems caused by drug abuse and would help families get addiction treatment.

Under the bill, people who received cash benefits from the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program would have been required to undergo drug testing in order to stay on the program. If they tested positive, they would have to undergo drug treatment or lose their benefits.

"We're testing to make sure those children are in a safe environment to where their parents aren't abusing drugs," LaBruzzo said in remarks reported by the Associated Press.

But other legislators attacked the bill on both fiscal and constitutional grounds. "You're targeting a specific group of individuals," said Rep. Patricia Smith (D-Baton Rouge).

Rep. Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), the committee chair, questioned the cost of the bill, estimated at $625,000 the first year and $2.6 million over five years. The cash-strapped state couldn't afford costly new programs, he said, casting his vote against the bill.

Press Release -- NYCLU to School District: Mass Student Search Illegal, Humiliating & Invasive

CONTACT: Jennifer Carnig, 212.607.3363 /


NYCLU to School District: Mass Student Search Illegal, Humiliating & Invasive


May 28, 2009 – The New York Civil Liberties Union has called on the Red Creek Central School District in upstate New York to publicly apologize to high school students subjected to illegal, humiliating and invasive searches by state police and school officials.

In a letter to Superintendent David Sholes, the NYCLU also urged the district to take steps to prevent invasive searches and protect students’ rights. Students subjected to the April 9 searches were passengers on a school bus parked outside of Red Creek High School. Every student was pulled off the bus and searched.

“This was one of the most humiliating moments of my life,” said 18-year-old graduating senior Stephanie Schultz, who is attending college in the fall. “My school taught me about the Constitution and about my rights, and then pushed them both aside and made me feel like my rights didn’t matter.”

Schultz and at least 17 other students on a Williamson BOCES school bus were removed from the bus in mixed gender pairs and ordered to the Red Creek High School principal’s office by a uniformed state trooper.  In the principal’s office, the students, male and female, were subjected to invasive searches in full view of each other.

Schultz was searched by a female librarian in front of three males – her principal, a police officer and a classmate. Though she asked that she be searched in a room without men, her request was denied. She cried as she was forced to roll down her waistband and expose part of her underwear and buttocks.

“The principal walked out because I was crying so much,” Schultz said. “I knew it wasn’t right what was happening, but there was nothing I could to. I felt helpless and humiliated.”

Nothing was found on the culinary arts student. In fact, the school district did not have suspicion that any of the students searched were engaged in any illegal activity at that time.

“Students must not be stripped of their rights and their dignity at the schoolhouse door,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “While drug abuse is a serious matter, it can be addressed without public humiliation. These students are now afraid of their teachers, they are afraid of the police, and they are afraid of what their classmates think of them. They deserve a public apology to ease these fears and restore their reputations.”

The male students were searched by Principal Noel Patterson as a state trooper watched. Female students were searched just a few feet away by a female school employee. Each student was ordered to remove their jacket, shoes and socks, and empty their pockets. Some students were “patted down,” others were asked to lift shirts and undershirts, and one student was asked to remove an outer pair of pants.

“This was humiliating, embarrassing, frustrating and a waste of my time,” said 18-year-old graduating senior and honor roll student Stephanie Forsythe. “Everyone saw me escorted by the police and thought I was arrested. I shouldn’t have had to go through that and I don’t want this to happen to my little siblings.”

According to the district, each student was subjected to a “waistband search,” which in some cases entailed turning down the waistband to reveal parts of their underwear, buttocks and pelvic area, in view of male and female school staff and the male state trooper. Backpacks, purses and other containers were also searched. At least one student was charged criminally and suspended for a year.

The NYCLU maintains that the searches violated the students’ rights under both the U.S. and New York State constitutions. The April 9 searches of the BOCES students were not based on individualized suspicion that any particular student was engaged in illegal behavior at the time of the search. Moreover, even if the school district had adequate ground for a search, the search that was conducted was far more intrusive and humiliating than is constitutionally permissible.

“Educators should know better than to do this to kids,” said Tim Cosser, whose 17-year-old son was searched. “I know they have to keep schools safe, but I don’t understand this. It’s not right. The district needs new guidelines that protect students’ rights.”

In light of the constitutional violations that occurred on April 9, the NYCLU urges the district to take the following steps:

·         Issue a public apology making clear to the community that the vast majority of the students on the bus were guilty of no wrongdoing and acknowledging the illegality of the searches.

·         Revise its policy on student searches to state that no reasonable search may be conducted without individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.  Individualized suspicion must be based on facts known to the official about the particular student that support a belief that a search will uncover evidence of a crime or violation.

·         Clarify and enhance its memorandum of understanding with the New York State Police with the goal of with the goal of creating clear guidelines for police and school officials that protects student rights.

·         Provide all school district employees who may be involved in student searches and interrogations annual training on students’ rights.

The district covers the towns of Butler and Wolcott in Wayne County and the village of Fair Haven and parts of Victory, Sterling and Conquest in Cayuga County.

To read the NYCLU’s full letter, visit

United States

Australia: South Australia Police Subject Club, Concert-Goers to Drug Dog Checks

Under an amendment to South Australia's Controlled Substances Act of 1984 approved last year, police are allowed to use drug-sniffing dogs as part of their general drug detection duties. They are doing so with a vengeance.
drug dog
Unlike the United States, where drug dog searches are typically conducted on vehicles or homes, the South Australian law allows police to sic the dogs on individuals. Since October, when four drug dogs and their handlers have been working bars, nightclubs, concerts, and festivals, they have managed to arrest more than 300 people on drug charges.

Police Minister Michael Wright told reporters Monday 327 people had been caught with drugs, including Ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines, cocaine, and cannabis. Of those, only 17 were arrested for serious drug offenses; the others were given fines, strongly suggesting that what the drug dogs were finding was mainly pot.

Wright naturally praised the drug dog teams, saying they were working hard and producing results. He also said the drug dogs acted as a deterrent for people thinking about going out and taking drugs with them.

"This government is committed to protecting the people of South Australia and helping to ensure their safety at dining and entertainment precincts," Wright said. "Police now have the power to execute drug detection operations in places identified as hotspots for drug dealing and use."

Wright did not provide any statistics on the number of drug dog "alerts" that proved unfounded. But a 2007 study that examined a similar program in New South Wales from February 2002 to February 2003 found that drugs were found in only 27% of the cases where drug dogs alerted. In another 40% of the cases, suspects admitted having smoked cannabis in the recent past or having been near cannabis smokers.

Free Speech: ACLU Backs Pain Activist's Effort to Quash Subpoena Issued in Kansas Case

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined pain activist Siobhan Reynolds and the Pain Relief Network (PRN) in her effort to block a bare-knuckled federal prosecutor from compelling her to produce documents about her contacts with Kansas pain doctor Steven Schneider and his wife, as well as friends, relatives, employees and attorneys.
Siobhan Reynolds at 2004 Congressional briefing
The federal grand jury subpoena marks the second time US Assistant Attorney Tanya Treadway has gone after Reynolds for her advocacy for the Schneiders as they face federal charges they unlawfully prescribed pain medications.

The Schneiders were arrested and their pain clinic and home raided by federal agents in December 2007. Reynolds, a tireless advocate for chronic pain patients and the doctors who prescribe for, went to Kansas to support the couple, whom she sees as being hounded by overzealous federal drug warriors. There, with her criticism of the prosecution's case, she became a thorn in Treadway's side.

Last July, Treadway sought a gag order barring Reynolds and the Schneiders from talking to the press and another order barring Reynolds from talking to "victims" and witnesses in the case. The judge hearing the case, US District Court Judge Monti Belot, denied that motion to stifle dissent.

At the time, Treadway said in court documents that Reynolds had a "sycophantic or parasitic relationship" with the Schneiders and alleged that she was using the case to further the Pain Relief Network's political agenda and her own personal interests.

Then, in March, Treadway hit Reynolds with the subpoena, which demands that Reynolds turn over all correspondence with attorneys, patients, Schneider family members, doctors, and others related to the Schneider case. Treadway's subpoena is supposedly part of an obstruction of justice investigation aimed at Reynolds. She also demands that Reynolds turn over bank and credit card statements showing payments to or from clinic employees, patients, potential witnesses and others, including virtually every attorney Reynolds knows.

That meant that in order to defend herself, Reynolds had to write and submit her own motion to quash the subpoena, which she filed on April 9. Now, the ACLU has ridden to the rescue, filing an amended motion to quash the subpoena that strongly argues the subpoena should be withdrawn because it threatens Reynolds' First Amendment rights and amounts to little more than a "fishing expedition" aimed at finding out information about the Schneiders' defense.

"These subpoenas constitute an abuse of the grand jury process," the ACLU argued. They would have "a chilling effect" on Reynolds' constitutionally protected speech. The subpoena directed at Reynolds is also "a misuse of the grand jury process because it is aimed at invading the defense camp of the Schneiders. On its face, AUSA Treadway's fishing expedition appears to have the impermissible purpose of obtaining information about the Schneider's defense. Therefore the subpoenas should be quashed as an abuse of the grand jury process."

The motion was heard on Tuesday (5/12), but there is no word back from the judge yet, who took it under advisement. Proceedings were conducted "under seal," at Treadway's behest, prohibiting the involved parties from publicly discussing it.

Search and Seizure: Supreme Court Limits Police Car Search Powers

A narrowly divided US Supreme Court Tuesday refused to expand police search powers at the expense of privacy rights, ruling that police cannot search a suspect's vehicle after the suspect has been detained and arrested absent probable cause. The 5-4 decision came in Arizona v. Gant.
car search
In that case, Rodney Gant was a suspect in a drug investigation. As Tucson police surveilled a suspected drug house where they had come into contact with Gant earlier, Gant drove up and exited his vehicle. Having checked Gant's record after the earlier encounter, police knew he had an outstanding arrest warrant for driving with a suspended license. Police arrested and handcuffed Gant, then placed him in the back of a patrol car. Police then searched his vehicle, finding a gun and some cocaine. Gant was charged with and convicted of drug possession and sentenced to three years in state prison.

Before trial, Gant had sought to suppress the evidence against him, arguing it was the result of an unlawful search, but the trial judge denied that motion. Gant appealed the verdict, winning in the Arizona Supreme Court. The state of Arizona then appealed to the US Supreme Court.

To no avail. While the Supreme Court acknowledged police powers to make a search incident to arrest, the justices noted that the purposes of such searches were to ensure officer safety and the preservation of evidence. With the suspect cuffed in the back seat of a patrol car and with no reason to preserve any "evidence" of Gant's offense -- driving with a suspended license -- the court held that police needed a search warrant to conduct a search of his vehicle.

"Police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority. "When these justifications are absent, a search of an arrestee's vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant or show that another exception to the warrant requirement applies."

A rare victory for the Fourth Amendment from the Roberts court.

Feature: Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Junior High Girl Strip Search Case

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding, a case that originated in a school administrator's decision to subject then 13-year-old Savannah Redding to a strip search after another student said she had obtained prescription-strength Ibuprofen tablets from her.
US Supreme Court
The case began when administrators in Safford, Arizona, received a tip from a student and his parents that another child possessed the tablets and planned to give them to other students at lunch. Authorities confronted the second student and found Ibuprofen tablets in her possession. The second student told administrators she had obtained the pills from Redding.

Redding was escorted to the principal's office, and Redding's backpack and outer clothes were searched, but no pills were found. She was then told to remove her outer clothing in front of the school nurse and an administrative assistant, both female. Standing in her underwear, she was ordered to pull out her bra and underwear to allow any hidden pills to fall free. None did.

Redding and her parents then sued the school district for violating her constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Redding won in the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, and the school district appealed to the Supreme Court.

The justices' questions during oral arguments Tuesday suggested that, as they sought to find a balance between student privacy and public school safety, they were tilting toward the latter. They appeared inclined to give school administrators broad authority to do what is necessary to protect kids from drugs.

That's what attorneys for the school district argued. "Searching any place where she might be reasonably hiding that contraband was constitutionally permissible" because the school district was acting as guardian, not law enforcement, said Matthew Wright, counsel for the district. "It's not like a criminal issue where they're trying to prosecute. This is a case where they're trying to protect," Wright said. "It is best for this Court to defer to their judgment... and not second-guess those rules."

Justice David Souter, noting that the drug at issue was Ibuprofen, interjected that, "At some point, this gets silly."

Still, Souter also remarked that it could have been a more dangerous drug, and the consequences of not acting could be tragic: "My thought process is, I would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search, if we can't find anything short of that, than to have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry."

Justice Antonin Scalia pressed Wright about whether a body cavity search would be permissible. While Wright tried to dance around that question, saying body cavity searches were not done because school officials were not trained to do them, Scalia kept pressing. In the end, Wright conceded that "I could see that result."

Despite concerns about how far school administrators could go in searching for drugs, the justices seemed even more concerned about more dangerous drugs. The justices repeatedly asked hypothetical questions about what if it had been heroin or methamphetamine instead of Ibuprofen.

When it came time for Redding's side of the case to be argued, a Justice Department attorney took the lead. "We believe that without some particularized suspicion or some specific indication that this, the location, was a likely one to contain the drugs, that this search was excessively intrusive," said attorney David O'Neil. "And this is not a new standard."

"We agree with the federal government that before conducting an intrusive strip search a school needs to have location-specific information," argued Adam Wolf of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "And while this case can begin and end with that well-accepted proposition, it's also important to recognize that a school needs greater -- a greater degree of suspicion to conduct a strip search than to conduct an ordinary backpack search. This search violated the clearly established point that in order to conduct an intrusive search of one's body, the searching official needs to at least reasonably believe that the object is located underneath the undergarments. The Fourth Amendment does not account -- it does not countenance the rummaging on or around a 13-year-old girl's naked body."

Justice Stephen Breyer tried to get Wolf to elaborate on "how bad" such searches really were, noting that students often changed clothes at school for gym class, but that only inspired Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only woman on the court, to intervene. "It wasn't just that they were stripped to their underwear," she said incredulously, referring to Redding and another girl similarly searched at the school. "They were asked to shake their bra out, to stretch the top of their pants and shake that out."

While the justices were weighing constitutional rights and student safety, youth rights advocates had little trouble sorting out the issues. "Strip searching eighth graders is way over the line," said Amber Langston, eastern region outreach director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "This kind of thing is a horrid example of the failure of our drug search policies in public schools. They said they were trying to protect the children, but who was protecting Savannah Redding from the humiliation inflicted on her by school officials?"

Students deserve the same constitutional rights as anyone else, said youth sociologist and Youth Facts founder Michael Males. And school districts should be making better choices, he added.

"Students should only be detained or searched under the same rules applied to adults," Males said. "If authorities have probable cause to suspect illegal behavior that would satisfy standards of reasonable suspicion, they can detain and search suspects. School strip searches require a very high level of probable cause, yet they typically seem based on gossip."

Males called the Redding case "particularly bizarre," noting that it only involved Ibuprofen. "School officials didn't seem interested in searching lockers, desks, or anywhere except inside the girl's underwear," he noted. "These kinds of traumatic cases are, again, why I keep arguing against raising hysteria about teenage drug use."

"Adults inspecting children's private parts is something we should be very wary of," said SSDP's Langston. "This was all over prescription-strength Ibuprofen, there was no evidence Savannah even had it except for the word of another student who was in trouble herself. If the Supreme Court allows this to stand, we will have given too much power to school officials to conduct such searches."

It's not just students but the school districts themselves that suffer from overbroad search policies, Males said. "These types of school searches have wound up costing hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in legal costs and, to my knowledge, virtually never find anything, which raises questions of why administrators are allocating scarce education resources to them."

The Supreme Court will decide the case later this summer. All indications are it will reverse the appeals court and uphold this expansion of school administrators' authority to do "whatever it takes" to protect students from drugs.

Poking Around in a Teenager's Panties is a Sick Crime (Unless It's a Drug Search)

At age 13, Savana Redding was strip-searched by school officials who suspected her of possessing prescription Ibuprofen. It turned out their information was bad, but they are so proud of what they did that they've defended their actions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Soon, the right to drug-search young girls' underpants may be firmly enshrined in our jurisprudence, so that the whims of drug hysteria will decide when it's appropriate to do that, rather than some old list of high-minded legal principles.

That this incident even happened is disturbing enough before one tries to come to terms with the fact that the Supreme Court appears likely to uphold the search. Perverts.

Important 4th Amendment Supreme Court Victory

Dear Friends:

Today, the Supreme Court handed down a great ruling in Arizona v. Gant, which increases 4th Amendment protection against warrantless vehicle searches. We've been following the case for a while, and this outcome is exciting.

Please visit our blog for FYR Associate Director Scott Morgan's analysis on the decision's likely impact.



Steve Silverman

P.S. Flex Your Rights is the only organization focused solely on defending the 4th Amendment and teaching citizens to understand their rights during police encounters. If you support our efforts, please consider making a one-time tax-deductible donation today. As you know, we can't do this important work without your support.

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Supreme Court Restricts Warrantless Vehicle Searches

The Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. Gant today was a pleasant surprise. The Court struck a blow against the deeply flawed search-incident-to-arrest doctrine that has permitted police to perform a vehicle search anytime someone in the car is arrested. For the last 28 years, concerns over officer safety have been held to permit ridiculous numbers of automatic vehicle searches that had more to do with the drug war than officer safety.

My thoughts on the case are over at Flex Your Rights.

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