This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).









In the Matter of the Welfare of:  T.J.R., Child.




Filed February 27, 2007


Toussaint, Chief Judge


Ramsey County District Court

File No. J505550586



Diane M. Dodd, Special Assistant Public Defender, 155 South Wabasha Street, Suite 125, St. Paul, MN 55107 (for appellant T.J.R.)


Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and


Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Kathryn S. Richtman, Assistant County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent State of Minnesota)



            Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Wright, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

            Appellant-juvenile T.J.R. was charged by petition with petty theft in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subd. 2(1) (2004).  On appeal from his adjudication as a petty offender, appellant contests the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized and statements made during a search conducted by a school official.  Appellant argues that the search was neither justified at its inception nor reasonable in scope and that his statements to the school official constitute “fruit of the poisonous tree” and are inadmissible under the exclusionary rule.  Because we conclude that the search was both justified at its inception and reasonable in scope, we affirm. 


            We review de novo a district court’s decision regarding the suppression of evidence.  State v. Munson, 594 N.W.2d 128, 135 (Minn. 1999).  When reviewing a district court’s rulings on Fourth Amendment issues, we accept the district court’s findings of fact, unless clearly erroneous, but we independently apply Fourth Amendment case law to the facts as found.  State v. Saffeels, 484 N.W.2d 429, 430 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. June 1, 1992). 


            Appellant first contends that the search to which he was subjected violated his right against unreasonable searches and seizures under the federal and state constitutions.  Both the United States Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures.  U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10.  Although we are free to provide greater protection under our state constitution than is required under the federal constitution, we should not “cavalierly” do so.  State v. Gray, 413 N.W.2d 107, 111 (Minn. 1987).  Here, we apply the same standard to appellant’s state and federal claims.

            The United States Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by school officials.  New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 333, 105 S. Ct. 733, 738 (1985).  But the T.L.O. Court also recognized that “the school setting requires some easing of the restrictions to which searches by public authorities are ordinarily subject.”  Id. at 340, 105 S. Ct. at 742.  School officials do not need to obtain a warrant prior to “searching a student who is under their authority.”  Id.  In addition, school searches need not be based on probable cause.  Id. at 341, 105 S. Ct. at 742.  Rather, the legality of the search depends “simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search.”  Id. 

            A determination of a search’s reasonableness involves a two-step analysis.  Id. at 341, 105 S. Ct. at 742-43.  First, we consider whether the search “was justified at its inception.”  Id. at 341, 105 S. Ct. at 743 (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1879 (1968)).  Second, we consider whether “the search actually conducted was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.”  Id. (citation omitted). 

            Appellant contends that the search was not justified at its inception.  A search of a student is justified at its inception so long as “there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school.”  Id. at 341-42, 105 S. Ct. at 743.

            On the day of the theft, 12-year-old appellant was one of seven students in a special education class that included a teacher and a paraprofessional.[1]  Before school started, the paraprofessional noticed that $8 was missing from her purse.  The teacher checked her own purse, confirmed she had a $20 bill inside, and returned it to her unlocked desk drawer.  The teacher then led her class to a school assembly in the auditorium.  The door to her classroom was left unlocked. 

            The assembly featured the “Magazine Guy,” a popular program with students.  Approximately 200 seventh-grade students attended the assembly, while the 600 other students in the school attended classes.  During the assembly, appellant requested permission to leave the auditorium to use the restroom.  The teacher thought this request was odd because all students in her class had been free to use the restroom during the ten minutes prior to the assembly.  Appellant was gone for seven to ten minutes, which the teacher thought was an unusually long period of time, given the proximity of the restrooms to the auditorium.  Appellant was the only student who left the auditorium during the assembly.  At the conclusion of the assembly, the teacher returned to her classroom, checked her purse, and discovered that her $20 bill was missing.

The teacher described the situation to a community liaison officer, who is a school district employee not a police officer, and asked him to find out if appellant had taken the money.  The community liaison officer accompanied appellant to a conference room and spoke with appellant about the missing money.

            The initial justification for the search arose from the teacher’s observations and beliefs that:  (1) appellant had an opportunity to use the restroom prior to the assembly; (2) appellant saw her check her purse prior to the assembly; (3) students do not like to leave during the “Magazine Guy” assembly because they find the presentation very entertaining; and (4) appellant was absent for an unusually long period of time.  Under these circumstances, we conclude that the search was justified at its inception. 

            Appellant also contends that the search fails the second prong of the T.L.O. test because it was excessively intrusive.  A search is reasonable in scope if the means “are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and [gender] of the student and the nature of the infraction.”  Id. at 342, 105 S. Ct. at 743. 

            While the two were in the school conference room, the community liaison officer asked appellant if he knew anything about the missing money.  The liaison officer asked appellant if he was willing to empty his pockets.  Appellant did, and no money was in his pockets.  The liaison officer then asked appellant if he would be willing to remove his shoes.  When appellant took off his left shoe, $28 fell out.  When asked where he had gotten the money, appellant initially claimed that he had earned the money doing “odd jobs” but, upon further questioning, admitted that he had taken the $20 bill from the teacher’s purse during the assembly and the $8 from the paraprofessional’s purse on the previous day.

            Here, the facts demonstrate that the scope of the search was reasonably related to the objective of determining whether T.J.R. had taken the missing money.  The liaison officer’s requests that appellant empty his pockets, followed by his request that appellant remove his shoes, were related to the objective of finding the missing money and were only minimally intrusive.  Therefore, we conclude that the search of T.J.R. resulting in the seizure of $28 did not violate the T.L.O. reasonableness requirement for a search conducted by a school official. 

            Because the search in this case was both justified at its inception and reasonable in scope, the district court did not err by denying appellant’s motion to suppress the evidence. 


            Appellant contends that the district court should have suppressed his confession to the community liaison officer as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”  Appellant also encourages us to hold that the exclusionary rule applies to unlawful searches conducted by school officials.  But because we conclude that the search of appellant was constitutional, under both the federal and state constitutions, we do not reach this issue. 


[1] Because appellant challenges the district court’s suppression decision, he argues that the facts for review are limited to those presented at the suppression hearing.  Without addressing the merits of this argument, we base our analysis solely on the facts presented at the suppression hearing.