November 13, 2014
STATE OF INDIANA, Appellee-Petitioner
APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT. The Honorable Marilyn A. Moores, Judge. The Honorable Gary Chavers, Magistrate. Cause No. 49D09-1402-JD-327.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CHRIS P. FRAZIER, Marion County Public Defender Agency, Appellate Division, Indianapolis, Indiana.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: GREGORY F. ZOELLER, Attorney General of Indiana; GEORGE P. SHERMAN, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.
BRADFORD, Judge. NAJAM, J., and BAILEY, J., concur.
On December 2, 2013, Jane Buckingham was working as a
science teacher at Northwest High School in Indianapolis when
Appellant-Respondent R.M. requested permission to place his backpack behind
Buckingham's desk. Buckingham initially granted R.M. permission to do so, but
later became concerned about whether there was contraband in the backpack.
Buckingham contacted Indiana Public School Police Sergeant Jeffrey Brunner who
searched the backpack, finding a handgun. On February 18, 2014, Appellee-Petitioner
the State of Indiana (the "State") filed a petition alleging that R.M. was a
delinquent child for committing what would be Class C felony carrying a handgun
without a license and Class D felony possession of a firearm inside a school if
committed by an adult. Following a fact-finding hearing, the juvenile court
adjudicated R.M. to be a delinquent child for committing the above-stated acts
and placed R.M. on probation.
On appeal, R.M. argues that the juvenile court abused
its discretion in admitting the handgun into evidence during the fact-finding
hearing because the handgun was discovered during an unreasonable search of his
backpack in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Upon review, we conclude that Sergeant Brunner's search of the backpack was
reasonable. As such, we further conclude that the juvenile court did not abuse
its discretion in admitting the handgun into evidence. Accordingly, we
affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On December 2, 2013, Buckingham was working as a
science teacher at Northwest High School. Before school started for the day,
Buckingham was approached by R.M. R.M. requested permission to place his
backpack behind Buckingham's desk. R.M. was in Buckingham's first two classes
that day. Although Northwest High School has a policy prohibiting students from
carrying backpacks from class to class, Buckingham allowed R.M. to place
his backpack near a file cabinet behind her desk. Buckingham did so because she
thought that the backpack might contain some equipment that R.M. might need due
to a medical condition. R.M. did not take his backpack with him upon leaving
Buckingham's classroom. R.M. did not come back for the backpack at the time of
day when Buckingham believed R.M. would need the medical equipment.
At some point before the end of the school day,
Sergeant Brunner was called to Buckingham's classroom. Sergeant Brunner
indicated that he went to Buckingham's classroom after Buckingham had expressed
concerns about a backpack left in her room by a student. Sergeant Brunner
located the backpack, unzipped it, and looked inside. Upon looking inside the
backpack, Sergeant Brunner saw a pair of shoes. Sergeant Brunner noticed the
"grip or butt" of a "small caliber semi-automatic handgun with wooden grips"
sticking out of one of the shoes. Tr. p. 53. Sergeant Brunner subsequently
discovered the magazine for the handgun inside of the other shoe. Sergeant
Brunner did not find any bullets in either the handgun or the magazine.
On February 18, 2014, the State filed a petition
alleging R.M. to be a delinquent child for committing what would be Class
C felony carrying a handgun without a license and Class D felony possession of a
firearm in a school if committed by an adult. Following a fact-finding hearing,
on February 28, 2014, the juvenile court entered a true finding of delinquency
on the basis that R.M. committed acts which would constitute each of the alleged
offenses if committed by an adult. The juvenile court subsequently placed R.M.
on probation. This appeal follows.
DISCUSSION AND DECISION
R.M. contends that the juvenile court abused its
discretion in admitting certain evidence during the fact-finding hearing.
Specifically, R.M. claims that the juvenile court abused its discretion in
admitting the handgun recovered from his backpack into evidence because the
search of his backpack by Sergeant Brunner was unreasonable under the Fourth
Amendment to the United States Constitution. In reviewing R.M.'s claims, we
observe that our standard of review on the admissibility of evidence is the same
whether the challenge is made by a pre-trial motion to suppress or by a trial
objection. D.L. v. State, 877 N.E.2d 500, 502 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007)
(citing Ackerman v. State, 774 N.E.2d 970, 974 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002),
A trial court has broad discretion in ruling on the admissibility of the
evidence. Gibson v. State, 733 N.E.2d 945, 951 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000). We
will reverse a trial court's ruling on the admissibility of the evidence
only when it has been shown that the trial court abused its discretion. Id. An
abuse of discretion involves a decision that is clearly against the logic and
effect of the facts and circumstances before the court. Id. We
the evidence most favorable to the court's decision and any uncontradicted
evidence to the contrary. Id. We review de novo the ultimate determination of
reasonable suspicion. Ransom v. State, 741 N.E.2d 419, 421 (Ind. Ct.
App. 2000), trans. denied.
Id. at 502-03.
Recognizing that "minors in school are subject to
supervision and control that could not be exercised over free adults" and
considering "the legislature's codification of the custodial and protective role
of Indiana public schools," the Indiana Supreme Court has held that "students
are entitled to less privacy at school than adults would enjoy in comparable
situations." Linke v. Nw. Sch. Corp., 763 N.E.2d 972, 979-80 (Ind. 2002). In
addition, the United States Supreme Court has held that "a school official's
search of a student is not subject to the fourth amendment warrant requirement
and does not require the same degree of suspicion that constitutes probable
cause." Berry v. State, 561 N.E.2d 832, 837 (Ind. 1990) (citing New Jersey v. T.L.O.,
469 U.S. 325, 340-41, 105 S.Ct. 733, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (1985)). "'Rather,
the legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the
reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search.'" Id. (quoting
T.L.O., 469 U.S. at 341). In determining whether a particular search is
reasonable, two inquiries must be made. Id. (citing T.L.O., 469 U.S. at 341).
"First, whether the search was justified at its inception and, second, whether
the search as executed was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances
which justified the original interference." Id. (citing T.L.O.,
469 U.S. at
In T.L.O., the United States Supreme Court held an assistant vice principal's
search of T.L.O.'s purse was reasonable under the circumstances. 469 U.S. at
346-47. The search conducted in T.L.O. was prompted by a teacher's discovery of
T.L.O. and another student smoking cigarettes in the school lavatory. Id. at
328. Because smoking in the lavatory was a violation of school rules, the
teacher reported the incident to the assistant vice principal, who then
questioned the students. Id. T.L.O. denied that she had been smoking in the
lavatory and stated that she did not smoke at all. Id. The assistant vice
principal searched T.L.O.'s purse and discovered a pack of cigarettes. Id. Upon
removing the cigarettes from T.L.O.'s purse, the assistant vice principal
discovered a package of cigarette rolling papers. Id. This discovery led the
vice principal to believe that T.L.O. might possess additional evidence of
drug use, and so he searched her purse further, finding marijuana and items
linked with smoking marijuana and involvement in drug trafficking. Id.
The United States Supreme Court found that the search conducted by the vice
principal was reasonable under the circumstances. Id. at 346. The search was
justified at its inception because T.L.O. had been accused of violating a school
rule, i.e., smoking in the school lavatory. Id. at 345. Because T.L.O. had
denied the accusation in the strongest possible terms when she stated that she
did not smoke, the discovery of cigarettes in T.L.O.'s possession would call her
denial of the accusations levied against her into question. Id. In addition, the
teacher's report certainly gave the assistant vice principal reason to suspect
that T.L.O. was carrying cigarettes with her; and if she did have cigarettes,
her purse was the obvious place in which to find them. Id. at 345-46. The
assistant vice principal's suspicion that there were cigarettes in the
purse "was not an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or 'hunch,' rather, it
was the sort of common-sense conclusio[n] about human behavior upon which
practical people--including government officials--are entitled to rely." Id. at
346 (internal quotations omitted, brackets in original). Further
exploration of T.L.O.'s purse was justified because the discovery of cigarette
rolling papers gave rise to the suspicion that she possessed marijuana as well
as cigarettes. Id. at 347.
In the instant matter, we conclude that the search of R.M.'s backpack amounted
to a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. R.M. left his backpack
unattended in Buckingham's classroom and did not return for it. While Buckingham
testified that she did not remember any specific conversations that she had with
Sergeant Brunner on the date in question, Sergeant Brunner testified that
Buckingham sought him out and "said that she had some concern about a backpack
that was given to her by a student." Tr. p. 44. When Sergeant Brunner asked
Buckingham about this concern, Buckingham responded that "she didn't feel right
about [the backpack because] she thought there was either drugs or a weapon in
the bag." Tr. p. 44. The juvenile court appears to have believed Sergeant
Brunner's testimony in this regard and we will not disturb the juvenile court's
credibility determinations on appeal. See Blood v. State, 272 Ind. 417, 420, 398
N.E.2d 671, 674 (1980) (providing that appellate courts will neither reweigh the
evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses on appeal).
We believe that it was reasonable for Sergeant Brunner to act on Buckingham's
suspicions of the presence of drugs or weapons in the backpack. As such, we
conclude that the search was justified at its inception. We further conclude
that the scope of the search was reasonably limited as Sergeant Brunner found
the weapon after merely unzipping the bag and peering inside. Furthermore, we
observe that had Sergeant Brunner not acted on the information provided to him
by Buckingham, most would consider him derelict in his duties for failing to
examine the backpack, thereby exposing the children who attended Northwest High
School to unnecessary risk. Thus, we cannot say that his decision to search the
backpack was unreasonable.
The judgment of the juvenile court is affirmed.
NAJAM, J., and BAILEY, J., concur.