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In re A.J.C.

Supreme Court of Oregon

May 30, 2014

In the Matter of A. J. C., a Youth. STATE OF OREGON, Respondent on Review,
A. J. C., Petitioner on Review

Argued and Submitted at Franklin High School, Portland, Oregon November 5, 2013.

CC J100537; CA A147559. On review from the Court of Appeals.[*]

The decision of the Court of Appeals and the judgment of the circuit court are affirmed.

Christa Obold-Eshelman, Youth, Rights and Justice, Portland, argued the cause and filed the brief for petitioner on review.

Anna M. Joyce, Solicitor General, Salem, argued the cause and filed the brief for respondent on review. With her on the brief was Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General.

Kevin M. Sali, Angeli Law Group LLC, Portland, filed the brief for amicus curiae ACLU of Oregon, Inc. With him on the brief was Kevin Diaz, ACLU Foundation of Oregon, Inc.

Before Balmer, Chief Justice, and Kistler, Walters, Linder, Landau, and Baldwin, Justices.[**]


Page 1196

[355 Or. 556] BALDWIN, J.

The juvenile court took jurisdiction over youth for conduct that, if committed by an adult, would constitute possession of a firearm in a public building, ORS 166.370; unlawful possession of a firearm, ORS 166.250; unlawful use of a weapon, ORS 166.220; and menacing, ORS 163.190. The question presented on review is whether the school-safety exception to the warrant requirement announced in State ex rel Juv. Dept. v. M. A. D., 348 Or. 381, 233 P.3d 437 (2010), permitted a school principal to conduct a warrantless search of youth's backpack after the principal had seized the backpack from youth. The juvenile court concluded that the search was permissible under the school-safety exception, and it denied youth's pretrial motion to suppress. The Court of Appeals affirmed that decision. See State v. A. J. C., 254 Or.App. 717, 295 P.3d 1157 (2013). For the reasons stated below, we now affirm.

We state the historical facts consistently with the juvenile court's findings, which are supported by the record. See, e.g., Ball v. Gladden, 250 Or. 485, 487-88, 443 P.2d 621 (1968). This case arises from a threat that youth made against another student, V, with whom he had had a relationship. Youth and V attended the same high school and, one evening, youth called V and told her that he was going to bring a gun to school to shoot her and other students. When V arrived at school the next morning, she informed Glader, a school counselor, about the threats. Glader then contacted Smith, the principal of the school, and informed him of the threats.

Page 1197

Smith was not familiar with V, who was a new student to the school. Smith was familiar with youth, a student with past disciplinary issues. Smith had worked with youth and youth's family in resolving those issues, and, when Smith heard of the threat, he considered it to be " outside the realm" of what he thought could happen. However, Smith did not feel that he was in a position to disregard the threat until it was investigated.

In investigating the credibility of the threat, Smith first called on the assistance of Officer Chertude, a deputy sheriff who contracted with the school. Chertude arrived at the school in a marked patrol vehicle within minutes. Smith also called youth's mother and requested that she come to the school. While youth's mother was en route, Smith conducted an independent search of youth's locker, but he found no evidence corroborating the threat. Once youth's mother arrived at the school, Smith went to youth's classroom. Youth was seated at his desk with his backpack underneath his seat. Smith picked up youth's backpack and asked youth to accompany him to his office. Youth calmly stood up and followed Smith to his office. Smith carried youth's backpack as they walked. Smith also kept close to youth in the hallway because youth was wearing a baggy jacket and Smith knew that a student could hide weapons in such clothing.

Smith still had control of youth's backpack when they reached his office. Smith, youth, youth's mother, and Chertude then entered Smith's office together.[1] Smith sat at his desk and placed the backpack at his feet and away from youth, who sat across from Smith and next to his mother. Chertude, who was in uniform and carrying a holstered firearm, stood to the side. Chertude explained to everyone that he was there as an observer and that the situation was not yet a criminal matter. Smith then began interviewing youth. Smith informed youth that V had " said that you were going to bring a gun to school and shoot [her] today and that that threat happened last night over a series of either text or phone calls." Youth denied making such a threat. Smith then inquired about youth's relationship with V, asking why she would make up such an allegation. Smith indicated that he had " a hard time believing a new student to our building is just going to make up a story, so I have to take it seriously. I don't have any reason to believe that she's lying to me, so what happened?" Youth then admitted to having had some sort of relationship with V and stated that " she called me, too, and she texted me, too." Several minutes into the interview, Smith informed youth that, " with this kind of verbal threat, I need to check and see * * * if this is true or not. So I have to follow through in my processes here, so I'm going to search your backpack." Youth did not either object or give consent, and Smith began the search.

The backpack, which remained at Smith's feet, contained five or six compartments. Smith opened the major compartment first and found nothing incriminating. Smith next opened a smaller second compartment that was approximately eight inches long and eight inches wide. At the bottom of that compartment, Smith found several .45-caliber bullets. Smith then opened a third compartment and found a .45-caliber handgun wrapped in a bandana. Smith passed the handgun to Chertude, who checked to see that it was unloaded and then disengaged it. Chertude handcuffed youth and read him his Miranda rights.

Before trial, youth moved to suppress evidence of the handgun and bullets, arguing that Smith's warrantless search of the backpack violated his rights under Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution. The state responded that the search was permitted under the school-safety exception to the warrant requirement articulated in M. A. D., 348 Or. 381, 233 P.3d 437. Under that exception, if a school official reasonably suspects that an individual on school property poses an immediate threat to the safety of others at the school, the official may take reasonable measures in response, including conducting a limited, warrantless search. Id. at 392-93.

Page 1198

At a hearing on youth's motion, youth argued that the school-safety exception did not apply because (1) Smith did not have reasonable suspicion to support his search, and (2) the search was not justified under the circumstances presented. Youth more specifically contended that Smith had not received credible information and therefore did not reasonably suspect that youth possessed a weapon. Additionally, youth argued that, because Smith had control over the backpack at the time of the search ...

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