New Jersey v. T.L.O.

Riley Schoonover

When is this case taking place? 1985

  • Spread of AIDs increases.
  • The first version of Windows is released and the first ".com" is registered.
  • TWA Flight 847 hijacking takes place.
  • Nintendo Entertainment System is released.
  • CDs are introduced to consumers.
  • Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club premiers in theaters.

The Story

In a New Jersey high school, two teenage freshman girls were caught smoking cigarettes and were taken to the principal's office. One of these girls was "T.L.O." whose name was not said in full due to her being a minor. T.L.O. claimed she had not been smoking anything, she didn't smoke at all. The principal made the girl hand over her purse where the following items were found: a pack of cigarettes, rolling papers, a pipe, marijuana, a large wad of cash, a list of students who owed her money, and two letters that proved T.L.O. was dealing marijuana at school. T.L.O. was then taken to the police where she confessed she did indeed sell marijuana at school. A Juvenile Court sentenced her to a year of probation. The State Supreme Court repealed the sentence saying the evidence found in her purse could not be used, they claim her 4th Amendment right was violated. The New Jersey Supreme Court then turned to the Supreme Court to hear the appeal.

The Issue

  • Do students have the same 4th amendment protection as adults?
  • Was the principal searching the girls purse a "probable cause"?
  • Would treating students differently than adults violate the 14th amendment?

4th amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

14th amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Court's Ruling

The court ruled 6-3 in favor of New Jersey. The Court agreed students also fall under the 4th amendment and school officials should have limitations, but school officials need to be able to make those decisions to keep school running and keeping education the student's focus. Students do not have the same rights as adults in this sense. School officials do need to have a "probable cause" in order to perform a search, meaning they must have reason to suspect a student is violating the rules.

Go to 5:14 on below video.

Search and Seizure: Crash Course Government and Politics #27


Infoplease. (2016). New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985). Retrieved from

Legal Information Institute. (2016). New Jersey v. T.L.O. Retrieved from

Legal Information Institute. (2016). 4th Amendment. Retrieved from

Legal Information Institute. (2016). 14th Amendment. Retrieved from

The People History (2016). What Happened in 1985 From the People History. Retrieved from