307 So.2d 317 (La. 1975), 54884, State v. Mora

Docket Nº:54884.
Citation:307 So.2d 317
Party Name:STATE of Louisiana v. William August MORA, Jr.
Case Date:January 20, 1975
Court:Supreme Court of Louisiana

Page 317

307 So.2d 317 (La. 1975)

STATE of Louisiana


William August MORA, Jr.

No. 54884.

Supreme Court of Louisiana.

January 20, 1975

Rehearing Denied Feb. 21, 1975.

Page 318

Guy J. D'Antonio, II, Reed, Reed & D'Antonio, Metairie, for defendant-relator.

William J. Guste, Jr., Atty. Gen., Barbara Rutledge, Asst. Atty. Gen., Knowles M. Tucker, Dist. Atty., Bernard E. Boudreaux, Jr., Asst. Dist. Atty., for plaintiff-respondent.

BARHAM, Justice.

Relator was convicted of possession of marijuana, a violation of La.R.S. 40:966C, and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment in the parish jail. We granted certiorari upon relator's application to review the trial court's denial of a motion to suppress the marijuana which formed the basis of the prosecution and a motion to suppress a confession. We find merit in relator's arguments alleging error in the trial

Page 319

court's ruling on his motion to suppress the marijuana and we therefore pretermit consideration of relator's other comlpaint.

At the time that the marijuana was seized, relator was a seventeen-year-old high school senior who was participating in a physical education class at the school he attended. Each participant changed from street clothes to gym clothes before joining in the class activities and, in accordance with a customary practice, placed his wallet and other valuables in an individual small canvas bag provided for that purpose. Once the small valuables bags were filled, they were all placed in a large duffel bag which was locked for safekeeping in the instructor's office for the duration of the class.

On the day of the search and seizure, relator obtained his small valuables bag from the instructor. The instructor testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress that the relator turned his back while filling the canvas bag, that his actions were furtive, and that he experienced some difficulty in placing his wallet, which appeared to be bulky, into the small canvas bag. Once the small valuables bag had been placed in the duffel bag, the instructor locked the duffel bag in his office. The instructor further testified that after reflecting on relator's furtive actions and considering them in light of his knowledge that some of relator's companions were narcotics users and that there was talk of the use of drugs by different student groups, he decided to inspect the contents of relator's wallet. When he opened the wallet, he found a plastic bag which contained a leafy green substance. Believing the substance to be marijuana, he summoned the school principal. The principal concurred in the instructor's belief and notified the juvenile authorities, to whom the marijuana was ultimately released. Relator's prosecution ensued and the motion to suppress the marijuana was heard and denied.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 7 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1921 (in effect at the time of the search in question) safeguard persons from unreasonable searches conducted without a warrant. However, the applicability of these constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable searches and the exclusionary rule of Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961) is limited to cases where the seizure is effected by governmental agencies. Concomitantly, the fruits of searches and seizures conducted by private persons are not subject to exclusion. See e.g., Barnes v. United States, 373 F.2d 517 (5th Cir. 1967). See also Burdeau v. McDowell, 256 U.S. 465, 41 S.Ct. 574, 65 L.Ed. 1048 (1921). Therefore, before we can decide the constitutionality of the search itself, we must initially determine whether the instructor and the school principal who effected the search and seizure were functioning as private persons, exempt from the stricture of the constitutional provisions, or as governmental agents, subject to those provisions.

Principals and instructors, like others employed by the State through its school boards, are responsible for public education in this State and are charged with the responsibility of implementing the policies of the State in this respect. By state law a teacher is authorized to hold each pupil strictly accountable for disorderly conduct at school. A principal may suspend from school any pupil who is guilty of willful disobedience or who uses tobacco or alcholic beverages in any form in school buildings or on school grounds or whom commits any other serious offense. La.R.S. 17:416. Because of the function of these school officials and their strict accountability to the State, we must conclude that these school officials, insofar as they are discharging their duties by enforcing State policies and regulations, are within the purview of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition; therefore, their students must be accorded their constitutional right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures.

Page 320

We must now consider whether the search and seizure effected by these State officials violated the constitutional stricture against unreasonable searches and seizures and whether suppression of the seized marijuana was consequently mandated under Mapp.

The general rule is that a search conducted without a warrant is per se unconstitutional. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 36 L.Ed.2d 854 (1973) * * *' State v. Tant, 287 So.2d 458, 459 (La.1973). However, it is possible for a search without a warrant to be constitutional, if and only if it falls within one of those categories recognized as 'specifically established and well-delineated exceptions' to the warrant requirement. See Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971), citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967). Two examples of such exceptions are searches incident to a lawful arrest and certain automobile searches.

We hold that a search on school grounds of a student's personal effects by a school official who suspects the presence or possession of some unlawful substance is not a 'specifically established and well-delineated' exception to the warrant requirement and that the fruits of such a search may not be used by the State prosecutorial agency as the basis for criminal proceedings.

For the reasons assigned, the relator's motion to suppress is maintained and his conviction and sentence are reversed.

SUMMERS, J., dissents and assigns reasons.

SANDERS, C.J., and MARCUS, J., dissent for reasons assigned by SUMMERS, J.

SUMMERS, Justice (dissenting).

I cannot agree with the majority. I would decide this case as follows:

Certiorari was granted to review the trial judge's ruling denying a motion to suppress marijuana on the ground that it had been obtained as a result of an unlawful search and seizure and to review his ruling denying a motion to suppress a confession on the ground that it was not made freely and voluntarily.

Defendant was charged by bill of information with possession of marijuana. La.R.S. 40:966C. Prior to trial, defense counsel filed motions to suppress marijuana confiscated by the State on the ground that it had been obtained by an unlawful search and seizure. He also filed a motion to suppress defendant's confession, alleging that it was not free and voluntary. Hearings were held and both motions were denied. After trial by the court without a jury, defendant was found guilty on December 12, 1973 and sentenced to serve six months in the parish jail. On defendant's application, writs were granted to review the ruling denying the motions to suppress the marijuana and the confession.


The Search and Seizure

Defendant was a high school student on March 22, 1973 when this offense occurred. At the time he was seventeen years old. Coy Scott, the physical education instructor, a member of the high school faculty, was conducting an early morning class in physical education in which defendant was enrolled. In accordance with a practice customarily followed, before each class, as they were 'dressing out', students wishing to do so placed their wallets, watches and other small, valuable personal effects in small individual canvas 'valuables or P.E. bags' furnished by the school. The bags were then turned over to the instructor in charge of the class who, in turn, placed them in a large duffle bag. This bag was then locked in the instructor's office for safekeeping while the class was in progress. Experience had taught that this practice reduced pilfering.

Page 321

On the day in question, defendant obtained his canvas valuables bag from Scott's desk and furtively turned his back while inserting his wallet. Scott observed defendant's furtive actions and the fact that his wallet was bulky, causing defendant to experience some difficulty in his nervous effort to put the overstuffed wallet into the bag. When defendant turned his valuables bag in. Scott placed it in the larger duffle bag and locked it in his office. Later, while the class was in session, Scott reflected upon this incident and the fact that 'during this time, there had been several of the kids speaking of the different groups using drugs', and further, because, he said, 'During this time, we had had several cases of drugs being used; and, of course, we had completed a drug seminar, and we had been cautioned many times to keep our eyes open for anything that may be suspicious going on at school . . ..' In addition, he had been informed that some of defendant's friends, or students he ran with, were narcotic users.

Persuaded by these circumstances and his concern over the presence of dangerous drugs on the school premises, Scott returned to his office to inspect defendant's valuables bag. When he opened the wallet, he found a plastic bag containing a leafy green substance. Believing that it was marijuana, he put the wallet back and reported his discovery to Dan Brumfield, the school principal. Donovan Pontiff,...

To continue reading