In 1980, a teacher at a high school in New Jersey found two girls
smoking in a bathroom. Students were allowed to smoke in some areas of
the school, but smoking in the restrooms was against school rules. The
teacher took the two girls to the principal's office. There, they met
with Assistant Vice Principal Theodore Choplick. One of the girls was
T.L.O., a 14-year-old freshman. T.L.O. said she had not been smoking and
said that she did not smoke at all. The second girl admitted that she
had been smoking.
Choplick took T.L.O. into his office. He told her to give him her
purse. When he opened the purse, he found a pack of cigarettes. He took
the cigarettes out of the purse and showed them to T.L.O. He said she
had lied about smoking in the restroom. He also found a package of
cigarette rolling papers. In his opinion, this meant that T.L.O. might
be using marijuana. He decided to search
T.L.O.'s purse some more. When he did so, he found some marijuana, a
pipe, and empty plastic bags. He also found one-dollar bills, a list of
students who owed T.L.O. money, and some letters. In the letters, there
was information that showed that T.L.O. was selling marijuana.
Choplick then called T.L.O.'s mother and the police. They both came
to the school. Choplick gave the items from the purse to the police. The
police asked the mother to take T.L.O. to the police station. At the
police station, T.L.O. admitted that she had been selling marijuana at
school. The State of New Jersey brought charges against T.L.O. The evidence they used was T.L.O.'s admission and the items from her purse.
T.L.O. said that the search violated the Fourth Amendment protection
against unreasonable search and seizure. She tried to have the evidence
from her purse kept out of court. She also argued that her confession should be suppressed,
because it happened as a result of the unreasonable search. The
juvenile court turned down her Fourth Amendment arguments. The Court
said that a school official may search a student if that official has a
"reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or
is in the process of being committed". A school official may also
search a student if he has "reasonable cause to believe that the search
is necessary to maintain school discipline or enforce school policies."
The juvenile court concluded that Choplick's search was reasonable.
It said that Choplick was justified in searching the purse because of
his reasonable suspicion that T.L.O. had violated school rules by
smoking in the restroom. When Choplick opened the purse, evidence of
marijuana use was in plain view. This justified the further search of
the purse. In January 1982, T.L.O. was found delinquent and sentenced to
one year of probation.
T.L.O. appealed her case in the New Jersey courts. The Supreme Court
of New Jersey found that Choplick's search was unreasonable. The state
In 1983, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear the case. In 1985, the Court handed down its decision.
Questions to Consider
Why did Choplick search T.L.O.'s purse?
What does the Fourth Amendment say?
Try to make an argument that the search of T.L.O.'s purse was a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.
Now try to make an argument that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to students in public schools at all.
Does the search of T.L.O.'s purse seem "reasonable" to you? Why or why not?
Should the procedures for searching students in schools be the same as the procedures for searching adults? Why or why not?