IA High Court: School Search of Student's Bag Was Legal

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Criminal law, search & seizure.

State of Iowa v. Mar'yo D. Lindsey Jr.. IA criminal law, search & seizure

The defendant was convicted in Black Hawk County, Iowa (Judges Kellyann M. Lekar and David F. Staudt) of possession of a gun and drugs. He appealed, and the case was ultimately heard by the Iowa Supreme Court.

The defendant was a student football player at Dunkerton High School, and was playing a game at Riceville, Iowa. He was injured during the game, and ambulance was called, and he was taken to the hospital. While paramedics were getting him ready for transport, he told the school superintendent several times to give his bag to a certain friend, and not let anyone else have the bag or "mess with it."

The bag was taken back to school on the bus, and when the superintendent placed it on the floor, he heard a metallic sound. The superintendent testified that he had a lot of experience with firearms as a hunter and collector, and that he was "one hundred percent sure" that the metallic sound was a gun. He was also aware that the defendant had previously been suspended for possession of drug paraphernalia, and that he had some previous weapons charges.

The superintendent opened the bag and a backpack inside of it. Inside the backpack was a loaded gun. When the defendant was charged with possession of the gun, he moved to suppress on the grounds that the search was unlawful.

The Iowa Supreme Court held that school officials had reasonable suspicion for the search. It noted that the case might be different if the protestations had occurred after a request to search. The defendant had affirmatively and without any prompting made his request that responsibility for his bag be given to a specific student. The court noted that he sought to control who gained access to the bag, but did not assert privacy rights against a threat of government intrusion.

It also noted that the request was suspicious given his potentially serious injury, he was worried about who grabbed his equipment bag. This request was more suspicious because of his history of drug abuse and firearms violations.

For these reasons, the court affirmed the conviction.

No. 14-0773 (Iowa June 24, 2016).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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