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posted on 2/22/19

The following post will address the constitutionality of school searches from a parent’s perspective. Both the U.S. Constitution and Section 6 of the Illinois Constitution’s Bill of Rights protect your child from unreasonable searches by “public officials,” which include teachers, administrators, and other school staff. However, there are limitations and complex issues you should understand as a parent. An Illinois criminal defense and school searches lawyer can provide more detailed information, but answers to frequently asked questions may be useful.

When can my child be searched? A 1985 decision by the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) is the standard for student searches in schools. In New Jersey v. TLO, a high school student was arrested for selling drugs on campus after her principal found marijuana, cash, and other incriminating items in her purse. At trial, the girl asserted her right against unlawful search and seizure. SCOTUS upheld the conviction, saying that the search of TLO was not a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.

How are school searches allowed by the US and Illinois Constitutions? The Justices in TLO used a reasonableness standard, which applies today: If the person being searched has a reasonable expectation of privacy, any evidence resulting from the search must be tossed out of court. However, students have a reduced expectation of privacy at school, so a search is permissible if a teacher or administrator suspects criminal activity.

What is considered reasonable suspicion? A student search at school is lawful in most cases because of the reduced expectation of privacy. There is no need for a school official to show probable cause, as the two-part test focuses on:

  • Whether the search was justified when it began because the official had grounds to believe the student was engaged in criminal activity or a violation of school rules, and
  • Whether the search was reasonable in scope, and is logically linked to what the official was attempting to find.

Are there any other relevant factors? Yes, reasonableness is also determined by the specific circumstances, such as the child’s age, gender, gender of the school official, and location of the search. For instance, it may not be reasonable for a male official to search the pockets of a 16-year-old female, but it may be permissible for him to go through her purse.

What should I do if my child’s civil rights were violated? If a questionable search led to a school suspension, criminal arrest or juvenile delinquency matter for your child, it is important to contact a knowledgeable criminal defense and school searches lawyer right away. Your child does have rights and, as a parent, it is important for you to protect them. Any evidence obtained through an unlawful search is inadmissible in an administrative proceeding and in court, but raising this issue as a defense can be complicated.

Discuss Your Concerns with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have questions or concerns about a school search of your child, please contact Glasgow & Olsson right away. You can call our office at 847.577.8700 or go online to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled criminal defense lawyers. Our team has specific experience in the constitutional issues related to school searches, and we can help you understand how these cases work.

(image courtesy of Redd Angelo)