Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Dirty, "Harry" Truth

In Chapter 1 of the textbook, the “Dirty Harry Problem” was introduced. This problem poses an important question related to Kant’s deontology, “Do the ends justify the means?
The phrase “Dirty Harry Problem” is a reference to a movie from the 1970’s about a police officer who turns his back on due process based on his hatred of the exclusionary rule, and breaks procedural law in order to enforce substantive law. In other words, he uses noble cause corruption to be sure to “get the job done” (Perez, 13).  

Here is an example of how Dirty Harry ignores procedural law to get the bad guys:

A current drug investigation going on at the high school I used to attend, Adlai E. Stevenson High School, brings this “Dirty Harry Problem” to mind. The drug investigation began when one student, suspected of being a drug supplier, got his phone confiscated at the school. Upon confiscation, his text messages and e-mails were read. Contacts in his phone then had their phones confiscated, and it snowballed from there. It has been confirmed that due to this investigation, at least one student has been arrested and many more have been suspended for being involved in possessing, dealing, or attempting to deal marijuana and other drugs at school.

You can read more about the Adlai E. Stevenson High School Drug Investigation here:

Although I believe it is important to prevent drug use and dealing at a high school, I feel that the way officials are going about this investigation is a classic case of the Dirty Harry problem. Although there is no case law directly discussing student rights to cell phone privacy at school, a similar case from a Pennsylvania high school is a good example of why students’ cell phones should not be confiscated and searched through without their own or their parents’ permission, as due process permits.
In the Pennsylvania case, a minor student was caught making a call on her cell phone during school, her phone was confiscated and excessively searched through, and nude photos were found. Feeling that her constitutional rights were violated, the student filed a complaint when she was threatened of having child pornography charges brought against her. Instead of going to trial, the school settled for $33,000 to resolve the dispute. If it is okay for the school to go through students cell phones like that, why did they pay her all that money to end the case instead of going to trial?
As for the current investigation taking place at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, parents and students are outraged. All of the cell phone searches are being conducted without warrants, and none of the communication they are investigating took place on the school’s email system or computers. One thing I found very interesting is that the school refuses to reveal the specific number of students who have been suspended so far because of the student confidentiality policy. If that is so, what does the student confidentiality policy have to say about the privacy their text messages and emails?
In my mind, the ‘Dirty, Harry Truth’ is that the way police officers and school officials are retrieving this incriminating information against students is a violation of the students’ First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights as guaranteed to them by the United States Constitution.
And for those of you who think that high school students aren’t owed the same rights when they are in school, here are some direct quotes that prove otherwise:

According to the Adlai E. Stevenson High School Student Guidebook section “Vision and Values;” “II.G. All members of the Stevenson learning community will conduct themselves in a way that contributes to a safe and orderly environment that respects the rights of others.”
In the section “Uniform Grievance Procedure” in the District 125 Board Policy Manual, it is stated that “a student, parent/guardian, employee, or community member should notify any District Complaint Manager if he or she believes that the Board of Education, its employees, or agents have violated his or her rights guaranteed by the State or federal Constitution.”
This is clarified once again in the section “Students Rights and Responsibilities,” where it says, “All students are entitled to enjoy the rights protected by the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions.”
Rumors are circulating of students already contacting lawyers to attempt to take this case to trial. The overwhelming question is, “Do the ends justify the means?

Other links:
Adlai E. Stevenson High School Board Policy Manual:
Adlai E. Stevenson High School Student Guidebook:


  1. Very interesting article. Rachel, you make it really difficult for me to argue because of the methodical nature of your research. Generally, I am an avid supporter of schools and their rights to search and seize of student's property. You refer to the student handbook as saying students and faculty are forwarded the rights of the U.S. Constitution. You also made a strong point about the school and students respecting the rights of others. I believe these points are subject to interpretation. Schools have been backed time and time again in regards to search and seizure. Laws have been layed out clearly that school property is not the property of students in any way shape or form. The safety of students should be of the utmost concern. Additionally, students should be provided an environment that facilitates learning. The use of cell phones may distract students. Ultimately, we should be able to trust school officials and authorities to decide whether a cell phone incident is a matter that should be handled specifically and informally or formally with write-ups and police contact.

  2. If I attended that high school, I would be outraged. While drugs in school is definitely an issue, they are NOT conquering it in the right way. As a high school student, I did not expect complete privacy of certain things such as my school locker, but that was to be expected. I attended St. Charles East High School, also known for drugs, and it got to the point where we would have random drug sweeps. The police would bring the K-9 unit out and sniff all the lockers and if a dog alerted at a locker, it gave the police probable cause to search the locker and subsequently the student.

    I just read a US Supreme Court case (New Jersey v. TLO)involving the search and seizure of a student's belongings at school. The Court held that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by public school officials. They further stated that school officials are representatives of the state (the government)and that students should have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    As a high school student, I expected complete privacy when it came to my cell phone. I do not think that it was anyone's business what was in my phone. The fact that school officials and police are going through the student's phone is amazing to me. But I also understand that cell phones are kind of a gray area in the law as far as search and seizure.

    Again, we don't know the circumstances of the specific individuals involved in this drug sweep, maybe the police had probable cause to search? Who knows. But I have a feeling this is going to get a lot of attention; maybe it will even make it up to the Supreme Court! :)

  3. I really enjoyed your article and how you tied it into the "Dirty Harry" problem, but my only problem with the argument is that a school wins 99% of the time when it comes to searches and seizures of students and their property. We all know as students were guaranteed due process of law and protections from unreasonable search and seizure, but as a student, we are paying the school or institution to educate and guide us, and while we are at the institution we must abide by the school rules.

    As for the cell phone,most of the time its not allowed in the classes, so technically its free game. I mean I deffinatley do not want that to happen to me or my phone, but The school has every right for searching a student of suspected illegal conduct. Especially if they are doing it on school grounds. Now what happens off school grounds is another story. Here, when I was in high school in Joliet, I had a locker next to a student who was holding cigarettes in his locker, which ended up getting searched and, which lead to my locker being seearched, which lead to the whole section being searched. It's not the same situation but its similar. I mean if the school heard any rumor of illegal conduct in the school and on the grounds, its their duty to investigate and make the school safe to educate.

    I say we have to support the law enforcement on this because the students were breaking the law, on school grounds which are meant to be more of a positive, informing place, its just protecting itself and it's reputation as a clean positive institution.

    I most likely sound like a "geek" but that's how schools operate and I expect that is how most schools would handle a situation. Don't want your phone searched? leave it at home lol

  4. I really hate how schools have become an all powerfull entity to control young peoples lives. I read all the time about situations like this one with the cell phones. Or about kids being punished at school for conduct that is not illegal and was committed off school property. The argument that the safety of the students is all important and thats why we give the schools these powers is dangerous. imagine if we used that logic in the federal government and implemented it the way schools do. We would soon have a 1984 style dictatorship. Our Republic is based on a system of checks and balances. There are little checks or balances on school officials which is why I think we are seeing such a rise in the number of abuse cases like the spoonfed semen. The rights set forth in the constitution should not be dependent on where a person is, I would never check my rights at the door when coming to class, high school students shouldn't have to either.

  5. This is a good thing to blog about because there is a constant struggle between catching the crooks and catching them in a way that satisfies due process. While due process is a very valuable thing that we have in this country, it begs the question of how long until the police are so bogged down by red tape that they cannot effectively do their jobs. This causes officers to attempt to find loopholes, but when the crooks get to use loopholes to get off for technicalities, can you really blame them? I agree that due process is extremely necessary, but I can also understand the frustration of police officers. Great Post.