New Jersey v. T. L. O.

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New Jersey v. T. L. O.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 28, 1984
Reargued October 2, 1984
Decided January 15, 1985
Full case nameNew Jersey v. T.L.O.
Citations469 U.S. 325 (more)
105 S. Ct. 733; 83 L. Ed. 2d 720; 1985 U.S. LEXIS 41; 53 U.S.L.W. 4083
Prior historyDefendant convicted sub. nom. State ex rel. T. L. O. 178 N.J. Super. 329, 428 A.2d 1327 (Middlesex County Ct., 1980); Affirmed, 185 N.J. Super. 279, 448 A.2d 493 (App. Div., 1982); conviction reversed 94 N.J. 331, 463 A.2d 934 (1983)
The Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by public school officials (administrators), and the search of student's purse was reasonable.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityWhite, joined by Burger, Powell, Rehnquist, O'Connor
ConcurrencePowell, joined by O'Connor
Concur/dissentBrennan, joined by Marshall
Concur/dissentStevens, joined by Marshall; Brennan (Part I)
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend IV

New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985), is a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States addressing the constitutionality of a search of a public high school student for contraband after she was caught smoking.[1] A subsequent search of her purse revealed drug paraphernalia, marijuana, and documentation of drug sales. She was charged as a juvenile for the drugs and paraphernalia found in the search. She fought the search, claiming it violated her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6–3 ruling, held that the search by the Piscataway Township Schools was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.


A teacher at Piscataway High School in New Jersey, upon discovering respondent, then a 14-year-old freshman, and her companion smoking cigarettes in a school lavatory in violation of a school rule, took them to the Principal's office, where they met with the Assistant Vice Principal. When respondent, in response to the Assistant Vice Principal's questioning, denied that she had been smoking and claimed that she did not smoke at all, the Assistant Vice Principal demanded to see her purse. After TLO was forced to hand over the purse, he observed a pack of cigarettes. Assistant Vice Principal Choplick kept searching through the purse because rolling papers were in plain view, and his search revealed a small amount of marijuana, rolling papers, a pipe, empty plastic bags, a large quantity of money in $1 bills, an index card that appeared to list students who owed TLO money, and two letters that implicated TLO in dealing marijuana. The principal then called the police and the girl's mother, who voluntarily drove her to the police station. She was convicted of dealing and use of illicit drugs. She was expelled from the school and fined $1,000.

Court decision[edit]

The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6–3 decision issued by Justice White, balancing between the legitimate expectation of privacy of the individual, even a child, and the school's interest in maintaining order and discipline, held for the appellant (the state). According to school officials, they do require a "reasonable suspicion" to perform a search.

Her possession of any cigarettes was relevant to whether or not she was being truthful, and since she had been caught in the bathroom and taken directly to the office, it was reasonable to assume she had the cigarettes in her purse. Thus, the vice-principal had reasonable cause to suspect a school rule had been broken, and more than just a "hunch" to search the purse. When the vice-principal was searching for the cigarettes, the drug-related evidence was in plain view. Plain view is an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the reasonable search for cigarettes led to some of the drug related material being discovered, which justified a search (including the zippered compartments inside the bag) resulting in the discovery of the cigarettes and other evidence including a small bag of marijuana and cigarette rolling papers.


In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Powell (joined by Justice O'Connor) stated that while he agreed with the Court's opinion, he felt that students in primary and secondary educational settings should not be afforded the same level of protection for search and seizures as adults and juveniles in non-school settings.[2]

Justice Brennan, joined by Justice Marshall, agreed with the majority's reasoning regarding a balancing approach to school searches. He disagreed, however, with the new standard set down by the Court, which he felt was a departure from the traditional "probable cause" approach. He explained:

Today's decision sanctions school officials to conduct full scale searches on a 'reasonableness' standard whose only definite content is that it is not the same test as the 'probable cause' standard found in the text of the Fourth Amendment. In adopting this unclear, unprecedented, and unnecessary departure from generally Fourth Amendment standards, the Court carves out a broad exception to standards that this Court has developed over years of considering Fourth Amendment problems. Its decision is supported neither by precedent nor even by a fair application of the 'Balancing test of power' it proclaims in this very opinion.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ New Jersey v. T. L. O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985).
  2. ^ T. L. O., 469 U.S. at 348-50 (Powell, J., concurring).
  3. ^ T. L. O., 469 U.S. at 354 (Brennan, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

External links[edit]