Make your own free website on

Law and Society
School Searches


Anatomy of a Murder
Woburn Case
School Searches
Search and Seizure
Bill of Rights
Constitution Film Q's
New Page Title
Bill of Rights Comes Alive
Law and Society Policies
Notes 1
Notes 2A
Notes 2B
Notes 2C
Notes 2D
Notes 2E
Notes 3
Notes 4

School Searches

I. Can school officials search student lockers?
Must have reasonable grounds to suspect that something illegal or
dangerous is hidden in the locker.

A. Overton Case
students have the exclusive use of lockers vis--vis other students but
not in relation to school authorities
"not only have the school authorities the right to inspect but the right
becomes a duty when suspicion arises that something of an illegal nature
may be secreted there."

B. New Jersey v. T.L.O.
Court rules that searches are justified when there are reasonable ground
for suspecting that a search will turn up evidence that the student has
violated the law or rules of the school.
Rejects 4th Amendment requirement of "probable cause" and replaces it
with the "dictates of reason and common sense"

1. Reasonable Test
Was the action justified from the start?
Was the extent of the search related in scope to the circumstances,
justifying the interference?

C. Unanswered Questions
1. In regard to lockers, desks, and other storage areas provided by the
school, what standards should be used in searching these areas?
2. Can educators search at the request of law enforcement officials?
3. Is "individualized suspicion" be recognized as reasonable?
4. Does the exclusionary rule apply to the evidence from unlawful searches
conducted by school authorities?

II. Can school officials search students' clothing?
Because clothing or body searches entail a greater invasion of privacy, courts have imposed a higher standard of protection against such searches.
A. New York v. Scott (1974)
17 year-old student is searched, suspected of dealing drugs, after having been seen entering the restroom twice in the same hour and leaving within seconds. Illegal drugs were found.
Court of Appeals of New York ruled- even though the school needed to address the problem of drug abuse, although this does 'not permit random, causeless searches" that might result in "psychological damage to sensitive children" and expose them to serious consequences, such as possible criminal convictions.

B. Williams v. Ellington (1991)
A 10th grade female honor student was reported by other students as having inhaled "rush" on a regular basis at school.
After several days of investigation, a search was conducted of her locker, books, and bag, revealing nothing.
In a private location, a female principal conducted a strip search, being careful to have the student remove her own clothes. The female principal only shook the waste band in case something was being concealed. No drugs were found.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the school's search, saying that based on the evidence and scope, they had acted reasonably. As far as intrusiveness, the search avoided any necessity of touching.

III. Can the Polices search school lockers or students without search
* No. The same legal principles apply to police behavior in and out of schools. However, school officials often cooperate with the police in warrantless searches. The larger questions is whether evidence gained through these searches is admissible in criminal proceeding against students, thus invoking the exclusionary rule.

A. Doe v. Renfrow (7th Circuit court, 1980) upheld the right of school officials to use dogs in an exploratory sniffing of students. The court also decided that the dog sniffing did not constitute a search.

B. Horton v. Goosecreek Independent School District (1982)
* Doberman pinschers and German shepards with the aid of trainers sniffed student s, lockers, and cars . The search only yielded a bottle of perfume, but a group of students sued, claiming their right to be free from unreasonable searches had been violated.
* The court decided that dogs sniffing of objects was not a search. When objects and their odors occupy public space, a public smell is comparable to seeing something in plain view. The dogs detection of something provides enough reasonable suspicion to enable school officials to conduct a search.
* Since a personal search is a more intrusive invasion of privacy, the court ruled that using dogs to sniff students was a search, and that the school officials would have to have further evidence to establish reasonable cause before conducting a personal search.