New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325; 105 S. Ct. 733; 83 L. Ed. 2d 720 (1985)

New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325; 105 S. Ct. 733; 83 L. Ed. 2d 720 (1985)

Facts—A fourteen-year-old high school freshman in New Jersey (and a companion) were discovered smoking in the school lavatory in violation of school rules. In addition, her purse (which she was made to open) contained cigarette paper commonly used with marijuana, a substantial amount of money, and a list of students who owed T.L.O. money. The lower court found the student delinquent and sentenced her to one year’s probation. The Appellate Division affirmed but the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed the decision.

Question—Is the reasonableness standard a proper standard for determining the legality of searches by school officials?


ReasonsJ. White (5–3). The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by state officers and protects the rights of students against encroachment by public school officials. Moreover, the Fourth Amendment applies to the activities of civil as well as criminal authorities. The Fourth Amendment requires searches be reasonable and requires balancing the need to search against the invasion that the search entails. The Fourth Amendment “does not protect subjective expectations of privacy that are unreasonable or otherwise illegitimate.” Factors against the right to privacy are the substantial interest of school authorities to maintain order and discipline. This requires a certain degree of flexibility and school disciplinary procedures. In striking a balance between expectations of privacy and maintaining a learning environment, there is an easing of restrictions to which public authorities are ordinarily subject. “The warrant requirement, in particular, is unsuited.” Nor is “probable cause” an irreducible requirement for the Fourth Amendment demands that searches and seizures be “reasonable.” Evidence to be relevant need not conclusively prove the ultimate fact in issue. Reasonable suspicion is not a requirement of absolute certainty. “Sufficient probability, not certainty, is the touchstone of reasonableness. The judgment of the

Supreme Court of New Jersey is reversed.”

J. Brennan and J. Marshall authored partial dissents in which they argued that the Court should require a higher standard than mere reasonableness in cases such as this.

Leave a Reply