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Court rules in favor of Jensen Beach High School regarding prom Breathalyzer incident

By Michelle de Leon | Oct 9, 2016

ATLANTA -- Former students from Jensen Beach High School lost their appeal against the Martin County School District regarding the alleged infringement of their constitutional rights during their 2014 prom when they were ordered to take Breathalyzer tests before being permitted to enter the venue.

Prior to sending the case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the issue was already dismissed by a U.S. district judge in March 2015. The earlier decision was upheld by a three-judge panel in the appellate court. In their 33-page decision released in July this year, the appeals court rejected the claims of the students and sided with the Martin County School District.

The issue started when a group of high school students rode a “party bus” to transport them to their Jensen Beach High School junior-senior prom in May 2014 at the Port St. Lucie Civic Center. They arrived at approximately 10:15 p.m. and were considered late, because it was past the cutoff time for admission.

Prom corsage | Ila Shah/Flickr CC

After the party bus arrived, a school resource officer asked permission from the driver to search the vehicle. The bus driver granted the officer permission to do so.

During the inspection of the party bus, the school resource officer found an empty bottle of champagne and 12 cups inside the vehicle. The students denied that the items were theirs and asserted that those were already inside the bus even before they boarded. Despite their claims, school officials still decided to require all the passengers of the “party bus” to take Breathalyzer tests before being permitted to enter the prom in accordance with school policies. There were 38 students in the vehicle.

Due to equipment issues, the testing was delayed. All 38 students were required to stand in line and wait until  after everyone had been tested, leaving only a few minutes left to their prom. All 38 passengers passed their tests with zero blood-alcohol content.

Initially, there were 12 students who filed the case but only nine of them appealed the earlier ruling by the district court judge. In the court documents, the students alleged that their rights under the First, Fourth and 14th Amendment were infringed upon by the actions of the Martin County School District and Martin County Sheriff William Snyder.

The appellants shared their outrage over the incident and said that their party bus should not have been searched by the school resource officer. They further noted that they should not have been detained even after they passed the Breathalyzer tests. In addition, the students felt it was unjust for the school officials to punish the students heard cursing during the incident.

The court rejected all but one of the points of the students. The ruling cited that the appellants signed a form that sought their agreement to the zero-tolerance policy of the school on alcohol and cursing during the prom night.

As for the search conducted on the party bus, the court stated that the search and seizure rights vary among schools. There may be instances that a warrant or a probable cause may no longer be necessary.

However, the court agreed that the school should not have detained the students who passed the Breathalyzer test. They pointed out that the exonerated individuals should have been allowed to enter the prom.

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Organizations in this Story

11th Circuit Court Of Appeal Jensen Beach High School