Public School Drug Searches: Toward Redefining Fourth Amendment "Reasonableness" to Include Individualized Suspicion
public education, search and seizure, fourth amendment, student rights, schools, education, reasonable cause, probable cause, privacy rights, individualized suspicion
Incidents of illegal drug use' and violent crime plague public school authorities across the nation. As narcotics and weapons appear on school campuses, school officials seek to conduct searches of students' lockers, property, and persons for contraband or prohibited weapons. Public school authorities justify their actions by stating that since the state requires children to attend school, the state retains a compelling interest, if not an affirmative duty, in ensuring that the school environment remain free of illegal substances which might present safety hazards to teachers or fellow students. The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted to protect individual citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In New Jersey v. T.L.O., the Supreme Court held the fourth amendment applicable to school searches and recognized that students have some constitutionally protected expectation of privacy in their belongings." However, the majority ultimately de cided" that the prevalence of student drug use" and the uniqueness of the school setting would allow school authorities to invade students' privacy rights and conduct searches for prohibited substances upon "reasonable suspicion" or "reasonable cause," rather than the higher traditional standard of "probable cause. " The Court did not establish fixed criteria concerning the type of information necessary to support a "reasonable suspicion" that a student possesses contraband. Thus, a crucial unaddressed issue remains whether a student search should be deemed valid if, prior to the, search, school officials lacked individualized suspicion that a particular student or group of students had violated a criminal law or school rule. If individualized suspicion is not an essential element of the requisite reasonable suspicion, school authorities could conceivably form a subjective assessment of the student population, determine that a drug use problem exists, and then proceed to randomly search some or all students to locate contraband which may or may not be present. The possibility of dragnet searches for contraband grows more alarming as the potential scope of student searches widens. Since the late 1960's, school officials have conducted three major types of searches at public high schools. The least invasive searches were typically of a school locker, an automobile, or a student's personal property, such as a handbag, or piece of luggage. More invasive searches include narcotic detection dogs sniffing lockers and persons to uncover illegal drugs. Until recently, the most invasive school searches were student body searches, which ranged from a patdown to a full strip search. However, during the past year, several schools have instituted policies requiring students to undergo urinalysis testing in order to detect drug use. This Note examines the conflict between a school's right to preserve educational safety and a student's right to privacy in his possessions, his person, and his body fluids. Section II addresses the history of the fourth amendment and its application to public schoolchildren. Section III discusses New Jersey v. T.L.O. and the decision's impact on school search law. Sections IV and V employ the T.L.O. balancing test to evaluate public school officials' need to conduct searches, weighing that need against the rights of students to preserve their privacy against invasive searches. Section VI reviews analogous invasive body search programs instituted in nonschool contexts. This Note will conclude that invasive body searches should not be conducted in public schools without the added safeguard of individualized suspicion to protect students' fourth amendment rights.
Jill I. Braverman,
Public School Drug Searches: Toward Redefining Fourth Amendment "Reasonableness" to Include Individualized Suspicion,
14 Fordham Urb. L.J. 629
Available at: https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ulj/vol14/iss3/4