BOSTON (CBS) — The highest court in Massachusetts has overturned the conviction of a teen who was arrested outside Milton High School with drugs and a gun in 2015, saying police didn’t have probable cause to search him.
Jonathan Villagran, who was 19 at the time, forced a lockdown at the school on March 25 of that year when police say he tried to enter the school with a loaded pistol shortly after classes ended for the day.
The Watertown teen was convicted in Quincy District Court of carrying a firearm without a license, carrying a dangerous weapon on school grounds, posession of a firearm without a firearm identification card, disturbing a school, and possession of a class D substance with intent to distribute.
After getting complaints from school officials that Villagran looked suspicious, a police officer searched his backpack, finding a bag containing the pistol, marijuana, and vodka.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that officer didn’t have probable cause or “reasonable suspicion” to search Villagran, and threw the conviction out.
The SJC noted in their decision that Villigran’s attorneys had filed a motion to suppress the drug and gun evidence prior to trial, but it was denied. The court said that denial “was error” because the officers frisk and search weren’t justified.
“We conclude that the police officer lacked reasonable articulable suspicion that the defendant had committed a crime and that the circumstances of the encounter with the defendant did not warrant a reasonable belief that the defendant was armed and dangerous to the officer or others,” the court wrote in their ruling. “Nor was the search permissible under any exception to the warrant requirement.”
But the ruling was not unanimous.
In a dissenting opinion in which he was joined by Justice Elspeth Cypher, Justice David Lowy argued that the assumption of privacy changes when a school is involved.
“An individual who attempts to gain entry to a school, where public access is restricted, does not have the same expectation of privacy as an individual in a home, on a street corner, or even in a motor vehicle,” Justice Lowy wrote.
He said the officer was justified in making the search because Villagran was a non-student who tried to enter the school “by duplicity,” because he was acting nervous, because he was potentially intoxicated, and because he showed up at the school at a time when many students would be exposed to him.