When the police a search a suspect who’s in custody, the law is fairly well established. But what happens if a student is searched on school grounds? The U.S. Supreme Court and the Ohio courts have wrestled with that question for many years.
The bottom line is that the authorities have wide latitude in searching students, but there is a limit to that latitude. Here are some of the key school search cases from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ohio courts:
New Jersey v. T.L.O. — This 1985 decision is the seminal case on school searches. The U.S. Supreme Court made three important holdings: (1) the Fourth Amendment protection against improper searches applies to searches conducted by public school officials, (2) students have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the personal items they bring to school and this expectation must be balanced against the school’s interest in maintaining an educational environment, (3) warrants are not required for searches by school officials and the searches may be based on less than probable cause.
In re Sumpter — Applying T.L.O., the Ohio Court of Appeals held in this 2004 decision that a warrantless search of a student did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the search was prompted by the student’s suspicious behavior.
In re K.K. — The Ohio Court of Appeals held in this 2011 case that a search of a student based on an uncorroborated tip was reasonable.
Safford United School District No. 1 v. Redding — The U.S. Supreme Court in this 2009 decision ruled that the strip search of a middle school student violated the Fourth Amendment because the school had no reason to suspect that the drug in question (Ibuprofen) presented a danger nor that the drug was concealed under the student’s clothing.