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Search and Seizure

Search And Seizure At Public Schools

A public school student's protection against unreasonable search and seizure is less stringent in school than in the world at large. In New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 105 S.Ct. 733, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (U.S. 1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a school principal could search a student's purse without probable cause or a warrant. Considering the "legitimate need to maintain an environment in which learning can take place," the Court set a lower level of reasonableness for searches by school personnel.

Under ordinary circumstances, the Court said, a search of a student by a teacher or other school official will be "justified at its inception" when there are 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. Such a search will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction. The "ordinary circumstances" justifying a warrantless search and seizure of a public school student, the Court continued, are limited to searches and seizures that take place on-campus or off-campus at school-sponsored events. Warrantless searches of public school students who are found off campus and not attending a school-sponsored event would still contravene the Fourth Amendment.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Roberts v. United States Jaycees to Secretary of StateSearch and Seizure - Overview, State Action, Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy, Probable Cause And Reasonable Suspicion, Arrest And Miranda