A Legal Analysis of School Searches

By Czubaj, Camilia Anne | Education, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

A Legal Analysis of School Searches


Czubaj, Camilia Anne, Education


A wadded-up looseleaf paper flew across the classroom. A seemingly typical classroom disturbance; however, on inspection, the crumpled paper contained marijuana. A student brushed up against another student en route to the pencil sharpener. A drug deal was made. A textbook was passed to another student; another drug deal. The teacher turned toward the chalkboard to write the lesson, a student jumped out of his seat, and made a drop two rows to the right before the teacher turned to readdress the class. A female student loaned her make-up compact to a fellow classmate to primp. Beneath the make-up puff was the "hit". A student entered the classroom with a flannel shirt tied around his waist. One sleeve was fun of snuff to be sold to classmates. During class changes eye contact is made to prospective buyers, hands pass behind the students or to oncoming students, making deals. Money is rolled withwise, easily concealable in hands. A mere handshake can produce a drug deal, all under the supervision and eyesight of a teacher. In all the above actual scenarios, a warrant to search would not have been practical. Is it reasonable suspicion of an unlawful act to pass a textbook in class? Hardly so, yet drug deals are made in this manner during school hours. Most drug deals are not carried out in parking lots or school lavatories, but students make drug deals within the classroom. The teacher present. Some students school for the sole purpose of drug dealing where the potential customers are readily accessible and in abundance. School lavatories extrude smoke into hallways. Asthmatic students find it difficult to use the facilities. States are passing anti-smoking laws prohibiting smoking in and on all school premises. Metal detectors are being installed at school entrances in an attempt to curb the increasing weapon possession by students in schools. School searches produce evidence to the before mentioned illicit activities. Some school searches have been deemed unconstitutional by the court system. Many school searches have been upheld with the evidence obtained through school searches; the student being convicted of unlawful behavior.

School searches fall under the jurisdiction of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, arid no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

The Fourth Amendment is used by courts to determine whether a school search was constitutional or unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court case, New Jersey vs. TLO, tested the Fourth Amendment with a school search in 1984. New Jersey vs. TLO is the case subsequent school search cases use to uphold the legality of a school search.

The U.S. Supreme Court case, New Jersey vs. TLO, was decided January 15, 1985. The case began in 1984 when a New Jersey high school educator discovered two female student smoking in the school lavatory, a violation of school policy. The student was taken to the assistant principal where the student denied the smoking charge. The assistant principal demanded to see the student's purse in which he found a package of cigarettes. Upon removal of the cigarettes, the principal found cigarette rolling papers and preceded to search, discovering marijuana, a pipe, plastic bags, a large amount of money, a listing of students owing money, and two letters implicating the student in marijuana marketing. The state brought TLO to juvenile court. The court found the school official's search was reasonable and the Fourth Amendment did indeed pertain to school searches. The case went to the appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Court where the previous court's finding was upheld but supported the court's findings with other grounds than delinquency. …

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