What is the exclusionary rule?


In the 1961 case of Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that the exclusionary rule applied to the states as well as the federal government. The question then became, "Does the exclusionary rule apply to schools?"

The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed this issue in the 1983 case of State In the Interest of T.L.O. In that case, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled in favor of T.L.O., saying that her Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. Further, in its opinion, the New Jersey Court reasoned that the Supreme Court of the United States has made it quite clear that the exclusionary rule is equally applicable "whether the public official who illegally obtained the evidence was a municipal inspector, a firefighter, or school administrator or law enforcement official." The New Jersey Court concluded, "that if an official search violates constitutional rights, the evidence is not admissible in criminal proceedings."

When the State of New Jersey, which was unhappy with this decision, requested that the Supreme Court grant certiorari in this case, the question presented was whether the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule applies to searches made by public school officials and teachers in schools. In their oral arguments before the Court, the two sides debated this and other issues.


Your teacher will play excerpts of the Oral Arguments in New Jersey v. T.L.O. Listen to the arguments made by each side and record relevant details on a piece of paper.


As you listen to the excerpts of the tape, answer the following questions.

For the petitioner (the State of New Jersey) Allan Nodes

Clip #1 4:50 - 7:00

  • Why does Mr. Nodes bring up the issue of the exclusionary rule?

  • How does he feel about the "reasonableness" standard (for searches of students) established by the Supreme Court of New Jersey?

  • How does he feel about the use of the exclusionary rule in schools?

Clip #2 14:52-18:40; 20:15-22:50

  • If the exclusionary rule is NOT used, what will deter teachers from conducting illegal searches?

  • Nodes says that the "indiscriminate use of the exclusionary rule" could "nurture disrespect" for our criminal justice system. What does he mean by this?

For the Defendant (T. L. O.), Lois De Julio

Clip #3 27:40 - 28:30

  • In a criminal court, should a distinction be made between a school and an outside setting?

Clip #4 32:45- 35:45

  • How does she feel about the "reasonable ground" standard established by the Supreme Court of New Jersey? What standard does she believe should be used?

  • Should a warrant be required for searches by school officials in schools? Why or why not?

Clip #5 38:30-43:03

  • What does Ms. De Julio think about the use of the exclusionary rule for evidence gathered in schools? Explain her reasoning.

  • Should school officials be able to routinely search students as a matter of school discipline? Why or why not?

Clip #6 53:45- 57:30

  • Does the exclusionary rule deter teachers from illegal behavior? Explain.

  • What other reason does she give for applying the exclusionary rule to schools?

Questions to Consider

  1. Which side has the more persuasive arguments? Give your reasons.

  2. Based on what you have heard, if you were a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, how would you rule in this case? Why?

  3. In its ruling the Court had to answer two questions. First, was the search legal, and second, if the search was illegal, does the exclusionary rule apply? Read the excerpt from the majority opinion. How did the Court answer each of these two questions?

  4. In a footnote to the majority opinion, Justice White writes,

    "In holding that the search of T. L. O.'s purse did not violate the Fourth Amendment, we do not implicitly determine that the exclusionary rule applies to the fruits of unlawful searches conducted by school authorities. The question whether evidence should be excluded from a criminal proceeding involves two discrete inquiries: whether the evidence was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and whether the exclusionary rule is the appropriate remedy for the violation. Neither question is logically antecedent to the other, for a negative answer to either question is sufficient to dispose of the case. Thus, our determination that the search at issue in this case did not violate the Fourth Amendment implies no particular resolution of the question of the applicability of the exclusionary rule."

    Summarize that footnote in one sentence.

  5. Based on what you have learned about this case and other cases involving students' rights, what do you think the Court will say about students and the exclusionary rule in the future?