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Alyssa King

Legal Brief #1 - New Jersey v. TLO (1985)

- JUSTIA US Supreme Court. Retrieved March 18, 2017, from
- A teacher at a New Jersey high school took TLO to the Principal's office upon
discovering the freshman smoking cigarettes in a school lavatory, in violation of a school
rule. When TLO denied that she had been smoking and claimed that she did not smoke at
all, the Assistant Principal demanded to see her purse. Upon opening the purse, he found
a pack of cigarettes, among other things that are commonly associated with the use of
marijuana. The Assistant Principal proceeded to search the purse thoroughly and found
some marijuana, a pipe, plastic bags, cash, and an index card containing a list of students
who owed money. TLO was charged with multiple crimes and expelled from the school.
Before trial, TLO moved to suppress the evidence discovered in the search of her purse.
- In short, the core issue of this case stems from the students Fourth Amendment
protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
- Was the students Fourth Amendment violated?
- The Supreme Court decided that the Fourth Amendment does restrict the actions of
school officials, and that students have a legitimate expectation of privacy when in
school. Yet TLOs sentence was ultimately upheld because the search in question was
found to be reasonable. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of New Jersey
found her guilty and sentenced her to probation for one year. On appeal, the court
affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress evidence.
- After denying TLOs motion to suppress the evidence found in her purse, the court held
that the Fourth Amendment applies to searches by school officials, but the search in
question was a reasonable one. The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court
affirmed the finding that there had been no Fourth Amendment violation, but vacated the
verdict of delinquency and imprisoned on other grounds. The New Jersey Supreme Court
reversed and ordered the suppression of the evidence found in TLOs purse, holding that
the search of the purse was unreasonable.

- The Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to

searches conducted by public school officials, and is not limited to searches carried out
by law enforcement officers. Nor are school officials exempt from the Amendment's
dictates by virtue of the special nature of their authority over schoolchildren. In carrying
out searches and other functions pursuant to disciplinary policies mandated by state
statutes, school officials act as representatives of the State.

- The search in this case was not unreasonable for Fourth Amendment purposes. First, the
initial search for cigarettes was reasonable. The report to the Assistant Principal that TLO
had been smoking warranted a reasonable suspicion that she had cigarettes in her purse,
Alyssa King
Legal Brief #1 - New Jersey v. TLO (1985)
and thus the search was justified even though the cigarettes, if found, would constitute
"mere evidence" of a violation of the no-smoking rule. Second, the discovery of the
rolling papers then gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that respondent was carrying
marijuana as well as cigarettes in her purse, and this suspicion justified the further
exploration that turned up more evidence of drug-related activities.


- As an educator, this ruling does have an impact on me. I need to understand the law
regarding search and seizure in schools.

- In elementary school, I have had multiple situations where students brought inappropriate
items that violate laws or school rules. I have also had some situations where students
have taken objects that do not belong to them. It is important to know and understand
search and seizure in schools.