New Jersey V. T.L.O. Essay, Research Paper
Name of the case and year it was decided
X New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)
The constitutional amendment V or section theeof Xwhich the court is interpreting
X 14th amendment
The specific facts of the case
X On March 7, 1980, a teacher at Piscataway High School in New Jersey found two girls smoking in a restroom. Since this was a violation of school rules, the teacher took the two students to the principal’s office. The assistant vice principal questioned the two girls separately. One student admitted she had been smoking. However, T.L.O. denied that she had been smoking in the restroom and claimed she did not smoke at all. The assistant vice principal then asked to see T.L.O.’s purse. When he opened the purse he found a pack of cigarettes and also noticed a package of rolling papers which the vice principal knew were associated with marijuana use. He then searched the purse more thoroughly and found a small quantity of marijuana, a pipe, several empty plastic bags, a substantial amount of money, a card that appeared to be a list of students who owed T.L.O. money, and two letters that implicated T.L.O. in marijuana dealing.
Thereafter, the State of New Jersey brought delinquency charges against T.L.O. in Juvenile Court. The Juvenile Court denied T.L.O.’s motion to suppress the evidence found in her purse. The Juvenile Court held that although the Fourth Amendment applied to searches by school officials, that the vice principal’s search of her purse was reasonable. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Juvenile Court’s finding that the search of the purse was unreasonable. The United States Supreme Court held that students are entitled to the same protection of the law as every other citizen and that school officials may conduct searches without a warrant if they have “probable cause” to believe that the subject being searched is violating or has violated the law or the rules of the school. The United States Supreme Court found that the search of T.L.O.’s purse was reasonable because the vice principal had reliable information from a teacher that T.L.O. had violated school laws.
The decision of the Court majority (must cover both the facts of the case and the broader constitutional question K
X The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by public school officials and is not limited to searches carried out by law enforcement officers. Nor are school officials exempt from the Fourth Amendment by virtue of the special nature of their authority over schoolchildren. In carrying out searches and other functions pursuant to disciplinary policies mandated by state statutes, school officials act as representatives of the State, not merely as surrogates for the parents of students, and they cannot claim the parents’ immunity from the Fourth Amendment.
X Schoolchildren have legitimate expectations of privacy. School officials need not obtain a warrant before searching a student who is under their authority. Moreover, school officials need not be held subject to the requirement that searches be based on probable cause to believe that the subject of the search has violated or is violating the law. Rather, the legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search. Determining the reasonableness of any search involves a determination of whether the search was justified at its inception and whether, as conducted, it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the interference in the first place. Under ordinary circumstances the search of a student by a school official will be justified at its inception where 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. And 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 student’s age and sex and the nature of the infraction.
X Under the above standard, the search in this case was not unreasonable for Fourth Amendment purposes.
X The initial search for cigarettes was reasonable. The report to the Assistant Vice Principal that respondent had been smoking warranted a reasonable suspicion that she had cigarettes in her purse, and thus the search was justified despite the fact that the cigarettes, if found, would constitute “mere evidence” of a violation of the no-smoking rule.
X The discovery of the rolling papers then gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that TLO was carrying marijuana as well as cigarettes in her purse, and this suspicion justified the further exploration that turned up more evidence of drug-related activities.
Because the search resulting in the discovery of the evidence of marijuana dealing by T. L. O. was reasonable, the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision to exclude that evidence from T. L. O.’s juvenile delinquency proceedings on Fourth Amendment grounds was erroneous. Accordingly, the judgment of the Supreme Court of New Jersey is Reversed.
Any guidance the Court gives for deciding similar cases in the future
X “The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures — Boards of Education not excepted. These have, of course, important, delicate, and highly discretionary functions, but none that they may not perform within the limits of the Bill of Rights. That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.” West Virginia State Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 637 (1943).
X These two propositions — that the Fourth Amendment applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, and that the actions of public school officials are subject to the limits placed on state action by the Fourteenth Amendment — might appear sufficient to answer the suggestion that the Fourth Amendment does not proscribe unreasonable searches by school officials. On reargument, however, the State of New Jersey has argued that the history of the Fourth Amendment indicates that the Amendment was intended to regulate only searches and seizures carried out by law enforcement officers; accordingly, although public school officials are concededly state agents for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment creates no rights enforceable against them.
The legal reasoning for the majority decision
Reasonableness standard held to be proper standard for determining legality of searches conducted by public school officials.
The vote of the justices