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New Jersey v. T.L.O.

New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985) was a case appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 1984, involving the search of a high school student for contraband after she was caught smoking cigarettes. All over New Jersey, New Jersey v. T.L.O. is taught to high school students during discussions on constitutional rights.

In New Jersey v. T.L.O., a search of the student’s purse revealed drug paraphernalia, marijuana, and documentation of drug sales. The high school student was charged as a juvenile for the drugs and paraphernalia. The student claimed the search violated her 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling, held the search was reasonable because the school had a reasonable suspicion to perform a search. The student was caught with in the bathroom, and there was a reasonable cause to suspect the student broke a school rule. When searching the purse for the cigarettes, the drug items were in plain view.

The 4th Amendment in the United States Constitution guarantees that a state will not conduct any unreasonable search and seizure. A defendant has standing to invoke the 4th Amendment when he has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area searched or items seized. A search is valid under the 4th Amendment only if the state has probable cause and a valid warrant. If the state lacks a valid warrant, a search may be legal if a warrant exception applies.

Plain view is a warrant exception. In New Jersey v. T.L.O., the drug items were in plain view when the school official opened the student’s purse.

Another exception to a warrant for a search is when there is a search incident to lawful arrest. If the high school student had been arrested, the police may legally search the immediate area (the “wingspan”) without a warrant. This warrant exception is for the officer’s safety, so the arrested person cannot reach for a weapon or destroy evidence.

If a police officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is a foot, or committed in the officer’s presence, the officer may also stop or detain a person for investigation without a warrant. If an officer believes a detainee is armed and dangerous, the officer may frisk the person, such as a pat down of outer clothing, to ensure there are no weapons.

Under the exclusionary rule, any evidence illegally obtained is excluded from being admitted during a criminal trial.

Criminal charges may be difficult for the common person to navigate. A criminal defendant needs an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure rights are not violated, and illegal obtained evidence not introduced during a criminal proceeding.

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