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Do the Recent Supreme Court Ruling on Warrantless Searches of Cell Phones and NH HB1533 Apply to Students at School?

In a unanimous landmark decision regarding the search of cell phones, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the police must obtain warrants before searching suspects' cell phones in almost all situations. The decision acknowledged that the ruling could make law enforcement more difficult, but recognized privacy ought to respected, stating warrantless searches of cell phones is a violation of the Fourth Amendment that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. To read the entire ruling, visit the Supreme Court's opinion here.

In New Hampshire, state lawmakers have also passed HB1533, which goes further than the Supreme Court ruling by forbidding warrantless searches of electronic devices in civil cases. The New Hampshire School Board has recently warned that school administration not search cell phones. However, some school districts don't feel they are compelled to immediately follow that warning and are consulting their lawyers to see whether the laws on cell phone searches affect schools and students.

In Manchester, school Superintendent Debra Livingston consulted with the school district's lawyer, and they are of the opinion that the Supreme Court decision, which sets a standard for criminal law, does not apply to students. Livingston said principals search student cell phones and other property when they believe a student or the school could be in danger, including situations of sexting, or sending explicit photos and messages.

In Nashua, Superintendent Mark Conrad has stated that cell phone searches are part of the school administration's offense against problems such as cyberbullying but has asked city attorney Stephen Bennett for an opinion on how the laws on cell phone searches affect schools and students. The issue is also being researched by an expert on school law at the University of New Hampshire.

District 2 State Representative, Neal Kurk of Weare, NH, is the man who introduced HB1533 and has also weighed in on this legal question. Kurk has publicly stated that his bill protects school employees and adults from warrantless cell phone searches, but would not apply to students.

It will be interesting to read the various legal opinions as they are formulated in the coming weeks - there should be quite a bit written on the topic by the time school is back in session this fall.

Do you have legal questions related to search warrants or warrantless searches in New Hampshire? Consulting a criminal defense attorney will enable you to protect your rights. Contact a New Hampshire criminal defense attorney at Wilson, Bush & Keefe, P.C. for immediate and effective legal counsel.

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