Search and Seizures: Unreasonable or Necessary?

Mike Chu, Editor in Chief

English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten ame...
English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution


“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” For many years these words, inscribed in fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, have guaranteed the protection of privacy for all who reside in the U.S. In summary, the fourth amendment restricts the government from arbitrarily invading one’s property or privacy without probable cause.

When asked to define probable cause students stated the words “probable cause” and “warrant.” However according to the Supreme Court decision New Jersey v. T.L.O,  require neither a warrant nor probable cause when searching a student’s property. The court ruled that “students have some legitimate expectation of privacy at school.  However, the students’ expectation of privacy must be balanced against the needs of school authorities to maintain an educational environment.  As such, school authorities do not need to obtain a warrant or have probable cause that a crime occurred before searching a student.” This does not mean that schools are able to inspect a student’s property with unlimited power. In the same court case, the Supreme Court also ruled that schools required only “reasonable suspicion” when searching a student’s property. In New Jersey v. T.L.O, The court stated that “Reasonable suspicion is satisfied when two conditions exist: (1) the search is justified at its inception, meaning that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will reveal evidence that the student has violated or is violating the law or school rules, and (2) the search is reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the search, meaning that the measures used to conduct the search are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and that the search is not excessively intrusive in light of the student’s age and sex and the nature of the offense.”

According to Cornell University, probable cause is justified “when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed [for an arrest] or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched [for a search].” When conducting a search on students, law enforcement officials still must be able to prove probable cause. This means that school officials essentially have more power than officers sworn into law. Do schools need this much power to “maintain an educational environment?”  What gives schools the right to be superior than the government when searching a student’s property?

Some students find this power to be unnecessary and even ludicrous. “it’s absolutely unnecessary for schools to have this much power… maintaining safety and invading privacy are two different things.” On the other hand, some students have suggested that this amount of power may be necessary for maintaining a safe and efficient learning environment. “I’m not perfectly comfortable with this, but if they (school officials) are able to keep us safe, then I can deal with relinquishing a part of my privacy.”