Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fifth Division
from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Cause No.
1722JU-00529. Honorable Robin Ransom Judge.
COLLEEN DOLAN, CHIEF JUDGE.
appeals the order and judgment of the Juvenile Division of
the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis (the
"juvenile court") finding that L.E. committed the
offense of unlawful use of a weapon when he brought a firearm
into Soldan High School. In his sole point on appeal, L.E.
argues that the juvenile court clearly erred in overruling
his motion to suppress evidence of the firearm being found in
a tissue box that was inside L.E.'s backpack because the
search conducted by the school's safety officers was
unlawful in that it violated L.E.'s Fourth Amendment
rights. Specifically, L.E. asserts that the
suspicionless hand-search of his backpack conducted by Saint
Louis Public Schools' ("SLPS") safety officers
(which resulted in the discovery of the firearm in L.E.'s
backpack) violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the
search was unreasonable under all of the circumstances.
Finding that the search did not violate L.E.'s Fourth
Amendment rights and that the juvenile court did not err in
denying his motion to suppress evidence relating to the
discovery of the firearm, we affirm the judgment of the
Factual and Procedural Background
following facts were adduced from the admitted evidence. On
the morning of August 17, 2018, L.E. entered Soldan High
School to attend classes. Students routinely enter the school
through its back doors, whereupon entering, they are required
to walk through a metal detector and have their bags
hand-searched by either a school safety officer or a teacher.
This procedure, which SLPS implements daily throughout its
school system, is "for the safety of the students, the
staff and the individuals in the building" and to ensure
that nothing enters the school "that would harm anyone
in the building." When L.E. entered the school on August
17, 2018, he complied with said procedure, placing his bag on
the table to be searched and walking through the metal
detector. School Safety Officer Harrison Carey
("Carey") searched L.E.'s bag by hand by
removing most of the items inside, as was the protocol for
all persons entering the school. Upon conducting his search,
Carey discovered a tissue box inside L.E.'s bag that felt
unusually heavy. Carey shook the tissue box and asked L.E.
what was inside; L.E. responded "don't open
that." Carey called over his fellow safety officer,
School Safety Officer Ricardo Graham ("Graham"), to
search the box. At that point, L.E. implored Carey not to
open the box, and whispered to Carey that there was a loaded
.380 caliber handgun inside. L.E. told Carey and Graham that
he brought the gun to school in case there was "some
kind of altercation" at the football game that night
with individuals from a neighborhood near where L.E. lived.
Without opening the tissue box, Carey and Graham escorted
L.E. to the school's security office, where they
handcuffed L.E. Carey and Graham thereafter opened the tissue
box and found the firearm (which was loaded with one round
that was chambered), unloaded the gun, and called the police.
When police officers arrived, they took L.E. into custody,
and obtained the firearm, magazine, and bullet from Carey and
to the gun being discovered in L.E.'s backpack, the
juvenile court had placed L.E. on Intensive Official Court
Supervision, but leaving him in the care, custody, and
control of his mother, after the court found that L.E. had
committed the offenses of first-degree robbery and attempted
first-degree robbery in October of 2017. After the gun was
found in L.E.'s backpack, a juvenile officer of the
Division of Youth Services of the Missouri Department of
Social Services filed an amended motion to modify the
previous order and judgment of the juvenile court. In the
amended motion to modify, the juvenile officer asserted that
modification of the court's previous order was
appropriate because L.E. had committed the offense of
unlawful use of a weapon by bringing a loaded firearm into
his school on August 17, 2018. Thereafter, L.E. filed a motion
to suppress evidence concerning the firearm at issue because
it was found as a result of an unlawful search and seizure
that violated L.E.'s Fourth Amendment rights; the parties
subsequently submitted memoranda to the juvenile court on
that issue, and the court heard argument on that issue during
a hearing on the matter.
hearing, testimony was proffered by both Carey and Graham, in
which they detailed the reasons for SLPS' search policy
and the events of August 17, 2018, preceding L.E.'s
arrest. Carey and Graham also testified that it was protocol
to have the students (including L.E.) unzip every compartment
of their bags, the officer or teacher searching would remove
most, if not all items from the bags to ensure no dangerous
items were inside, and said hand-searches of bags occur on a
table next to the metal detectors through which students walk
upon entering the school. Additionally, the firearm,
magazine, and bullet were also presented as evidence. After
all of the evidence had been presented and the juvenile court
had heard argument on the motion to suppress, the court
denied the motion, reasoning that the search procedure
implemented by SLPS did not violate L.E.'s Fourth
Amendment rights because the search was conducted for the
safety of persons inside the building and for the purpose of
preventing weapons from entering the school. The court
thereafter entered its order and judgment finding that the
juvenile officer had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that
L.E. committed the offense of unlawful use of a weapon, and
committed L.E. to the Division of Youth Services for
Standard of Review
"[w]hen reviewing the trial court's overruling of a
motion to suppress, this Court considers the evidence
presented at both the suppression hearing and at trial to
determine whether sufficient evidence exists in the record to
support the trial court's ruling," and will reverse
only if the ruling was clearly erroneous. State v.
Williams, 521 S.W.3d 689, 693 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017)
(quoting State v. Pike, 162 S.W.3d 464, 472 (Mo.
banc 2005)); see also State v. J.D.L.C., 293 S.W.3d
85, 87-88 (Mo. App. W.D. 2009). However, while we give
deference to a trial court's factual findings and
credibility determinations, we review questions of law (such
as whether a constitutional right was violated) de
novo. Williams, 521 S.W.3d at 693; State v.
Grayson, 336 S.W.3d 138, 142 (Mo. banc 2011); In
Interest of J.L.H., 488 S.W.3d 689, 693 (Mo. App. W.D.
sole point on appeal, L.E. argues that the juvenile court
clearly erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence of
the firearm found in his backpack because the search
conducted upon his backpack was unlawful. Specifically, L.E.
contends that the suspicionless hand-search of his backpack
violated his Fourth Amendment rights in that: the search that
yielded the firearm found in L.E.'s bag was not based
upon individualized reasonable suspicion that L.E. was
involved in any illicit activity; it unreasonably infringed
upon L.E.'s legitimate expectation of privacy in his bag;
the intrusiveness of the search was severe; and the nature
and immediacy of the school's interest in conducting the
search was no more than a generalized concern for safety
without a showing of a need sufficient to justify the
substantial intrusion upon L.E.'s privacy interest.
Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in
their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated." U.S. Const. amend. IV. "The Fourth
Amendment, by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment, applies to
searches by public-school officials, as they are considered
state actors." Williams, 521 S.W.3d at 694
(citing New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 334
(1985)); see also Doe ex rel. Doe v. Little Rock Sch.
Dist., 380 F.3d 349, 351-52 (8th Cir. 2004).
is 'the touchstone of the constitutionality of a
governmental search,' and the relevant constitutional
question in school search cases is 'whether the search
was reasonable in all the circumstances.'"
Doe, 380 F.3d at 352 (quoting Bd. of Educ. of
Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 92 of Pottawatomie Cnty. v. Earls,536 U.S. 822, 828 (2002) and Thompson v. Carthage Sch.
Dist.,87 F.3d 979, 982 (8th Cir. 1996)) (internal
citations omitted). Unlike search-and-seizure cases in other
contexts, the "reasonableness" inquiry in regards
to the Fourth Amendment in public schools must include the
consideration of "the school's tutelary
responsibility for children" and that "securing
order in a public-school environment sometimes requires
greater controls over students than those over adults."
Williams, 521 S.W.3d at 694 (citing Vernonia
Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton,515 U.S. 646, 656 (1995)
("Vernonia") and Earls, 536 U.S.
at 831). For that reason, the Supreme Court of the United
States has maintained ...