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

In New Jersey v. T.L.O., the Supreme Court held that the assistant vice principal’s search of a student’s purse in his office did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The Court held that the amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by public school officials, but that school officials need not obtain a warrant before searching a student who is under their authority.

T.L.O. held that the legality of a school official’s search of a student depends not on probable cause, but ‘‘simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search.’’ Reasonableness, in turn, depends on a two-part inquiry: Was the search ‘‘justified at its inception,’’ and was the search as actually conducted ‘‘reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place’’? Ordinarily a search of a student by a teacher or other school official is 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.’’ The search is permissible in 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.’’

T.L.O. determined only students’ Fourth Amendment rights. As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court later held in In re F.B. (1999), a search valid under the amendment might violate state constitutional guarantees.

DOUGLAS E. ABRAMS

References and Further Reading

  • Abrams, Douglas E., and Sarah H. Ramsey. Children and the Law—Doctrine, Policy and Practice. 2nd ed. St. Paul, MN: Thomson West, 2003.
  • Davis, Samuel M. Rights of Juveniles: The Juvenile Justice System. 2nd ed. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2005.
  • LaFave, Wayne R., Jerold H. Israel, and Nancy J. King. Criminal Procedure. 4th ed. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/ West, 2004.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • In re F.B., 726 A.2d 361 (Pa. 1999)

See also In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967); Search (General Definition); Search Warrants

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