New Jersey v. T.L.O, 469 U.S. 325 (1985)


A New Jersey high school student was accused of violating school rules by smoking in the bathroom. An assistant principal then searched her purse for cigarettes. The vice principal found marijuana and other items that implicated the student in dealing marijuana. The student tried to have the evidence from her purse hidden arguing that mere possession of cigarettes was not a violation of school rules; therefore, a desire for evidence of smoking in the restroom did not justify the search. The Supreme Court decided that the search did not violate the Constitution and established more lenient standards for reasonableness in school searches.

Petitioner v. Respondent

The petitioner is T.L.O. and the respondent is New Jersey. New Jersey argued that T.L.O. was not subject to the 4th amendment because she was in school and under school rules. T.L.O. argued that she was searched unreasonably and that the suspicion that she was smoking was not enough to search her belongings. She argued that her 4th amendment right was violated.

Legal Concept

The legal concept being looked at for this case is search and seizure. Under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, any search of a person or his premises (including a vehicle), and any seizure of evidence, must be reasonable. Normally, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant from a judge, specifying where and whom they may search, and what they may seize, though in emergency circumstances, they do not need a warrant. Probable cause also allows law enforcement to search a person without a warrant. This case raises the question as to whether your 4th and 14th  amendment rights carry over into schools. T.L.O argued that she was searched unreasonably and that that violated her rights.

Court's Decision

The court ruled 6-3 in favor of New Jersey. They ruled that the school did not need a search warrant to search T.L.O. They said that schools do not need warrants if the search is reasonable. They also do not need probable cause but just a reasonable suspicion that the student has or is violating school rules. The search will be considered reasonable if there are reasonable grounds that the search will find evidence that the student violated a school rule. In this specific case it was reasonable for the Vice Principal to search her purse as he had reasonable suspicion that she was breaking a school rule because a teacher saw her smoking in the bathroom. While searching her bag he came across more evidence that she had broken another rule, he found rolling papers, allowing him to keep searching the purse.

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