About the 4th Amendment in public schools

Wikipedia has good articles on Stafford and T.L.O. You can also read the case opinions at findlaw.com. Those Wikipedia articles describe well what these cases were about.

hyperlinks for the Stafford v. Redding case:

Stafford case opinion

wikipedia article on Stafford

New Jersey v. T.L.O.

T.L.O. case opinion online

Briefly, Stafford was the Supreme Court recognizing that there is a limit to a 4th amendment search in public schools of a student based on T.L.O. reasonable suspicion standard. A school official cannot ask a female student to turn her bra inside out to look for aspirins and other over-the-counter prescription drugs based on reasonable suspicion alone.

What is reasonable suspicion? It is a standard less strict than the usual probable cause required in a 4th amendment search. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Probable_cause). A school official must have “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,”  New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 US 325 (1985) at 342. The search must also be “reasonably related to the objects of the search and not excessively intrusive,” Id. The Stafford case involves a search where the Supreme Court found to be excessively intrusive.

Before, federal courts have varied in what was excessively intrusive under reasonable suspicion. The Supreme Court, itself, considered random urine testing of athletes in Vernonia School District 47J v. Action, 515 U.S. 646 (1995), and random urine testing of ANY extracurricular activity (i.e., the National Honor Society) in Board of Education v. Earls,536 U.S. 822 (2002), and did not find either excessively intrusive. Indeed, these drug testing cases do not require even reasonable suspicion to justify a test. A federal trial court explored sniffing by police dogs in Doe v. Renfrow, 475 F.Supp 1012 (1979). That opinion did not consider sniffing by the dog as excessively intrusive. Similarly, in Horton v. Goose Creek Independent School District, 690 F.2d 470 (5thCir. 1982), the Fifth circuit did not find police dog sniffing to be excessive. However, the Ninth Circuit in B.C. v. Plumas Unified School District, 192 F.3d 1260 (9th Cir. 1999), did find random, suspicion-less police dog sniffing unreasonable.


NOTE: please keep in mind that this blog is not meant to be legal advice. Consult a lawyer if you need legal advice.

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