Professor, Dr. Sonya S Shepherd
Education and The Law
July 29, 2012
Your Belongings Can Be Searched, But Not Arbitrarily
When a student is under school supervision it is not required for school officials to obtain a search warrant before searching a student and no police have to be involve either for the search or seizure of a student or property. When safety is involve of the student or personnel it is the duty of the school to search a student. A warrant may protect the student and staff but as long as the school officials conduct themselves in a manner viewed reasonable, they don’t have to prove probably causes before searching a ...view middle of the document...
T.L.O. (Terry), a 14-year-old freshman at Piscataway High School in New Jersey, was caught smoking in a school bathroom by a teacher. The principal questioned her and asked to see her purse. Inside was a pack of cigarettes, rolling papers, and a small amount of marijuana.
The police were called and Terry admitted selling drugs at school. Her case went to trial and she was found guilty of possession of marijuana and placed on probation. Terry appealed her conviction, claiming that the search of her purse violated her Fourth Amendment protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures."
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school. Students have "legitimate expectations of privacy," the Court said, but that must be balanced with the school's responsibility for "maintaining an environment in which learning can take place." The initial search of Terry's purse for cigarettes was reasonable, the Court said, based on the teacher's report that she'd been smoking in the bathroom. The discovery of rolling papers near the cigarettes in her purse created a reasonable suspicion that she possessed marijuana; the Court said which justified further exploration. T.L.O. is the landmark case on search and seizure at school. Basically, school officials may search a student's property if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that a school rule has been broken, or a student has committed or is in the process of committing a crime. These are called "suspicion-based" searches. There is also "suspicion-less searches" in which everyone in a certain group is subject to a search at school.
In New Jersey v. T.L.O., the Court set forth the principles governing searches by public school authorities. The Fourth Amendment applies to searches conducted by public school officials because "school officials act as representatives of the State, not merely as surrogates for the parents. However, "the school setting requires some easing of the restrictions to which searches by public authorities are ordinarily subject. Neither the warrant requirement nor the probable cause standard is appropriate, the Court ruled. Instead, a simple reasonableness standard governs all searches of students' persons and effects by school authorities.
A search must be reasonable at its inception, i. e., there must be "reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school. School searches must also be reasonably related in scope to the circumstances justifying the interference, and "not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction. In applying these rules, the Court upheld as reasonable the search of a student's purse to determine whether the student, accused of violating a school rule by smoking in the lavatory, possessed cigarettes. The search for cigarettes uncovered evidence of drug activity held admissible in a prosecution under the...