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Judge Posner Benchslaps Student Over Lawful Marijuana Search

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD | Last updated on

No, this case is not straight out of a Cheech and Chong movie -- it's real. And yes, we are lucky that Judge Posner wrote the opinion because we all know that no one gives a good benchslap like Judge Posner.

In Medlock v. Trustees of Indiana University, the Seventh Circuit had to explore the relationship between a student and his university, whether the university's agents were state actors, and the privacy interests that inure in this unique setting.

Factual and Procedural Background

Zachary Medlock was a student at Indiana University, and lived in a university dorm. To live in a dorm, one must comply by the school's rules, one of which is consenting to periodic health and safety inspections, with written notice given at least 24 hours in advance. Here, Medlock received one week's notice via email, along with inspections being announced on the loud speaker the day of the inspection.

Upon entry into Medlock's room, student inspectors found a pipe containing marijuana, and noticed a marijuana plant in Medlock's closet, to which the door was left open. The student inspectors called the university police, who once saw the drugs, obtained a warrant and later found enough drugs to raise suspicion that Medlock was providing marijuana to other students. Though Medlock was suspended for one year, the suspension was tantamount to expulsion because he had to reapply to the school, where he was once again accepted.

Medlock sued school officials, as well as the university police officer and student inspectors alleging a 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing the underlying claim was an illegal search that violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Rather than seeking damages, he wanted the expulsion expunged from his record.

Fourth Amendment Analysis

Judge Posner rejected Medlock's claim because not only was the search legal, but the exclusionary rule of the Fourth Amendment only applies to criminal proceedings. Because all criminal proceedings against Medlock had been dropped, the Fourth Amendment claim failed.

Here, Judge Posner, astonished at the lack of criminal action taken against the student, characterized the relationship between school and student as one of business and customer, and noted that here, "the customer is indeed always right."

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