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?”
Adlai E. Stevenson High School Board Policy Manual: http://www.d125.org/assets/1/workflow_staging/Documents/132.PDF
Adlai E. Stevenson High School Student Guidebook: