Saturday, May 6, 2006

Breathalyzer tests at prom?

Channel 6 in Indianapolis has an interesting report on what some high schools are doing this prom season:

PLAINFIELD, Ind. -- Hundreds of Indiana teens went to their school proms Friday night, and some submitted to breath tests before the big dance.

Plainfield High School was one of several other schools in Indiana to use Breathalyzers.

School administrators used six breath machines to test students for alcohol. Officials said they are trying to avoid alcohol-related incidents before and after prom.

On one hand, there are good arguments for this policy. Is it a major intrusion on one's liberty to exhale into a machine before prom? After all, these young people could simply choose to not attend prom, and they would not be subject to the test. It is possible that these tests could save lives by (if nothing else) providing a deterrent to underage drinking.

The problem is the question of whether these tests violate the Fourth Amendment protections against "unreasonable searches and seizures" and the requirement that warrants be issued on "probable cause". Keep in mind that these are government schools. Even if the Breathalyzer found that one of the students had been drinking before prom, would it be admissible in a court of law?

There is also an issue of fairness. Should all (or a significant number of) students be subject to a Breathalyzer test because some students illegally consume alcohol? This looks like "big brother" watching over everyone. While no one wants high school students consuming alcohol at prom, the ultimate responsibility for preventing teenage drinking should be on parents rather than a blanket Breathalyzer test.