The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hicks, J.
Argued: September 21, 2011
The juvenile, Anthony F., appeals an order by the Derry District Court (Moore, J.) denying his motion to suppress evidence supporting a delinquency petition against him. We reverse and remand.
The following facts are undisputed or are supported by the record. On April 8, 2010, at approximately 9:00 a.m., a parking lot monitor at the juvenile's high school radioed one of the school's assistant principals that a student was walking away from the school. The monitor, along with both assistant principals, caught up with the student, later identified as the juvenile, as he was halfway across the lacrosse field, which was approximately 200 yards from the school building.
The juvenile initially refused to return to the school, stating that he did not feel well; however, the parking lot monitor and the assistant principals persuaded him to do so. The assistant principals escorted him back and directed him to an empty lunchroom.
The assistant principals then twice informed the juvenile that he was going to be searched. The juvenile asked why he had to be searched and they explained that it is the school's policy to search students who return to school after leaving an assigned area. They testified that, on average, about twelve to twenty students per year leave an assigned area and, upon return, such students often have contraband such as alcohol, drugs and weapons in their possession. One assistant principal asked the juvenile if he had "anything on [him] that [he] shouldn't have on school property." The juvenile eventually handed over a small bag of marijuana that he retrieved from inside his sock. Subsequently, a delinquency petition was filed against the juvenile.
The juvenile moved to suppress the marijuana evidence, arguing that the search was unconstitutional under the New Hampshire and Federal Constitutions. The State countered that there was no search under the law, but even if a search occurred, it was constitutionally valid.
The trial court denied the juvenile's motion, finding that, while there was a search, the search and the school policy were reasonable and the policy was "evenly applied." The court then entered a finding of true to possession of marijuana based on the stipulated facts. This appeal followed.
On appeal, the juvenile argues that the search was unreasonable under Part I, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The juvenile argues that there was no "individualized suspicion" of any wrongdoing on his part and, therefore, the search was not justified at its inception. The State renews its arguments that there was no search, but, even if there was a search, it was "constitutionally permissible."
Our review of the trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress is de novo, except as to any controlling facts determined by the trial court in the first instance. State v. Gubitosi, 152 N.H. 673, 676 (2005). We first address the juvenile's claim under the State Constitution, State v. Ball, 124 N.H. 226, 231- 33 (1983), and cite federal opinions for guidance only. Id. at 232-33.
At the outset, we turn to whether there was a search when the assistant principals twice told the juvenile that he was going to be searched and then asked him if he had "anything on [him] that [he] shouldn't have on school property." "Our State Constitution protects all people, their papers, their possessions and their homes from unreasonable searches and seizures." State v. Mello, 162 N.H. 115, 119 (2011) (quotation omitted); see N.H. CONST. pt. I, art. 19. We have recognized that an expectation of privacy plays a role in the protection afforded under Part I, Article 19. Mello, 162 N.H. at 119. Thus, without an invasion of the juvenile's reasonable expectation of privacy, there has been no violation of the juvenile's rights under Part I, Article 19. See State v. Robinson, 158 N.H. 792, 796 (2009).
Certain constitutional rights apply equally in the public school setting as elsewhere. These include rights under part I, article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution. Public school students have legitimate privacy interests in a variety of personal items they bring to school. These privacy interests are not waived when the student merely passes through the schoolhouse door.
State v. Drake, 139 N.H. 662, 664 (1995) (citations omitted).
Here, these privacy interests are not disputed. Rather, the State argues that "[b]ecause the school officials neither searched the juvenile's belongings nor commanded him to reveal anything, their conduct did not amount to a search in the constitutional sense." We are not persuaded that the lack of physical intrusion or the lack of an explicit command rendered their conduct not a search. The assistant principals twice informed the juvenile that he was going to be searched and then immediately inquired into what he had on his person. We see no meaningful distinction between twice telling the juvenile that he was going to be searched and then asking if he had "anything on [him] that [he] shouldn't have" and "command[ing] him to reveal" what he had. The assistant principals' conduct in this case was akin to a command. Therefore, we find that the assistant principals' actions constituted a search. Cf. Sanders v. State, 732 So. 2d 20, 21 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1999) ("When a suspect empties his pockets in response to an officer's directive that he do so, the legal effect is the same as if the officer had himself searched the suspect's pockets."); State v. B.A.S., 13 P.3d 244, 246 n.3 (Wash. Ct. App. 2000) ("A school ...