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Debbie O'Leary
IU Maurer School of Law

Indiana University law professor: Court may side with authorities in strip-search case

April 20, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Safford United School District No. 1 v. Redding (08-479), the case of an eighth-grade female honors student who was strip-searched by school officials looking for ibuprofen pain reliever. A federal magistrate and three-panel appeals court found the search was reasonable, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the search "traumatizing" and illegal.

Craig Bradley, Robert A. Lucas Professor of Law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, said the Supreme Court may uphold the original ruling on the case. "In the most similar previous case, New Jersey v. TLO (1985), the Supreme Court permitted the search of a student's purse on 'reasonable grounds' that she had broken the school's no smoking policy, while acknowledging that students have limited Fourth Amendment rights," Bradley explained. "This case differs in that the student was alleged to have committed a more serious offense, distributing prescription drugs, and the level of intrusion on her privacy was greater. The level of suspicion against her would have been enough to justify an arrest by the police for a crime. There was both an allegation by another student, and the fact that other drugs and knives had been found in her planner (though the planner was being used by the other student). Since she could have been subject to arrest and strip search at the stationhouse by the police, it seems likely that the Supreme Court, which has not been particularly supportive of student rights, will uphold this search by the school nurse."

Bradley's teaching and research interests include constitutional law and criminal law and procedure. A former clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and assistant U.S. Attorney, he has worked extensively with foreign legal systems, including as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Criminal Law in Germany and a Fulbright Senior Fellow at Australian National University. His most recent books include Criminal Procedure: A Worldwide Study and The Rehnquist Legacy.

He can be reached at 812-855-1257 or by e-mail at