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New Jersey v. T.L.O.: The Fourth Amendment Applied to School Searches

NCJ Number
Oklahoma University Law Review Volume: 11 Dated: (1986) Pages: 225-241
D A Walls
Date Published
17 pages
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O. is disappointing both in the small amount of guidance it gives for school searches and in the guidance it fails to give.
The case involved the assistant principal's decision to search the purse of a 14-year-old student observed smoking a cigarette in a school lavatory. The search was prompted by the finding of cigarette rolling papers as the pack of cigarettes was removed from the purse. Further search revealed marijuana and several items indicating marijuana selling, resulting in the adjudication of T.L.O. as a delinquent. The Supreme Court held that the fourth amendment applies, but tghat the need to maintain an orderly educational environment modifies typical fourth amendment requiremetns of warrant and probable cause. Thus, the Court found the search to be reasonable. The Court relaxed the usual probable cause standard. It also declined to comment on the issues of whether students have a legitimate expectation of privacy regarding lockers and other property shared with the school and did not comment on what standard would apply to a search conducted by school officials at the request of law enforcement authorities. 114 footnotes.