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American Bar Association

ABA Section of Litigation
Children's Rights Litigation

Case Notes


Landmark Juvenile Law Cases: Fourth Amendment

Board of Education v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002)

Students sued the Board of Education, alleging that the Board’s policy requiring all students participating in extracurricular activities to submit to drug testing violated the students’ constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches. The students contended that the board’s drug testing policy was unconstitutional because the board failed to identify a special need for testing students who participate in extracurricular activities, and the policy neither addressed a proven problem nor required a showing of individualized suspicion of drug use. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the policy did not constitute an unreasonable search because it reasonably served the board's important interest in detecting and preventing drug use among its students. The Court found that he board’s general regulation of extracurricular activities diminished the expectation of privacy among students, and the board’s method of obtaining urine samples and maintaining test results was minimally intrusive on the students’ limited privacy interest. The Court also found that the drug testing policy was a reasonably effective means of addressing the board’s concerns about preventing drug use in the board’s schools in the face of the evidence of increased drug use at the schools. Thus, the Court upheld the Board’s drug testing policy, holding that it did not violate the Fourth Amendment, and reversed the Tenth Circuit’s decision.

Vernonia School District v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995)

The school district required student athletes to submit to drug testing, for which the student’s parents had to sign consent forms. The parents of a seventh grade student athlete refused to sign the testing consent forms and filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from enforcement of the policy on the grounds that it violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Oregon Constitution. The trial court denied the claims and dismissed the action. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the policy was unconstitutional and the school district appealed.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the school district’s policy was reasonable and thus constitutional because (1) students were not entitled to full Fourth Amendment protections where the state’s interest in preventing drug addiction among students was compelling, (2) student athletes had a decreased expectation of privacy and (3) the urinalysis and accompanying disclosure requirements were not significant invasions of privacy. The Court vacated and remanded the case back to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether the school board’s policy violated the Oregon Constitution now that the Court held that it did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985)

This case addresses whether the proper standard for assessing the legality of a search conducted by a public school principal was followed. Two high school students were caught smoking in the bathroom. One student admitted that she smoked, while the other, T.L.O., claimed that she did not smoke. The principal searched T.L.O.’s purse and found cigarettes and rolling paper used for marijuana. He then further searched her purse to find marijuana, a pipe, empty bags, money and a list of alleged users from the school that owed her money. The State of New Jersey brought delinquency charges against the student and T.L.O. tried to suppress the evidence found in her purse, claiming that the principal’s search of her purse violated her Fourth Amendment rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that a students’ Fourth Amendment rights protects that student from unreasonable searches, but that the principal’s search, in this case, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The Court held that the search was permissible in its scope because the measures adopted were reasonably related to the objectives of the search and were not intrusive in light of the age and the sex of T.L.O. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, holding that because the search resulting in the evidence of drug dealing was reasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment, the evidence from that search was admissible.

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