United States Supreme Court
NEW JERSEY v. T. L. O., (1985)
Argued: March 28, 1984 Decided: January 15, 1985
A teacher at a New Jersey high school, upon discovering respondent, then a 14-year-old freshman, and her companion smoking cigarettes in a school lavatory in violation of a school rule, took them to the Principal's office, where they met with the Assistant Vice Principal. When respondent, in response to the Assistant Vice Principal's questioning, denied that she had been smoking and claimed that she did not smoke at all, the Assistant Vice Principal demanded to see her purse. Upon opening the purse, he found a pack of cigarettes and also noticed a package of cigarette rolling papers that are commonly associated with the use of marihuana. He then proceeded to search the purse thoroughly and found some marihuana, a pipe, plastic bags, a fairly substantial amount of money, an index card containing a list of students who owed respondent money, and two letters that implicated her in marihuana dealing. Thereafter, the State brought delinquency charges against respondent in the Juvenile Court, which, after denying respondent's motion to suppress the evidence found in her purse, held that the Fourth Amendment applied to searches by school officials but that the search in question was a reasonable one, and adjudged respondent to be a delinquent. The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court affirmed the trial court's finding that there had been no Fourth Amendment violation but vacated the adjudication of delinquency and remanded on other grounds. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed and ordered the suppression of the evidence found in respondent's purse, holding that the search of the purse was unreasonable.
- 1. The Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by public school officials and is not limited to searches carried out by law enforcement officers. Nor are school officials exempt from the Amendment's dictates by virtue of the special nature of their authority over schoolchildren. In carrying out searches and other functions pursuant to disciplinary policies mandated by state statutes, school officials act as representatives of the State, not merely as surrogates for the parents of students, and they cannot claim the parents' immunity from the Fourth Amendment's strictures. Pp. 333-337. [469 U.S. 325, 326]
- 2. Schoolchildren have legitimate expectations of privacy. They may find it necessary to carry with them a variety of legitimate, non-contraband items, and there is no reason to conclude that they have necessarily waived all rights to privacy in such items by bringing them onto school grounds. But striking the balance between schoolchildren's legitimate expectations of privacy and the school's equally legitimate need to maintain an environment in which learning can take place requires some easing of the restrictions to which searches by public authorities are ordinarily subject. Thus, school officials need not obtain a warrant before searching a student who is under their authority. Moreover, school officials need not be held subject to the requirement that searches be based on probable cause to believe that the subject of the search has violated or is violating the law. Rather, the legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search. Determining the reasonableness of any search involves a determination of whether the search was justified at its inception and whether, as conducted, it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the interference in the first place. Under ordinary circumstances the search of a student by a school official will be justified at its inception where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school. And such a search will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the student's age and sex and the nature of the infraction. Pp. 337-343.
- 3. Under the above standard, the search in this case was not unreasonable for Fourth Amendment purposes. First, the initial search for cigarettes was reasonable. The report to the Assistant Vice Principal that respondent had been smoking warranted a reasonable suspicion that she had cigarettes in her purse, and thus the search was justified despite the fact that the cigarettes, if found, would constitute "mere evidence" of a violation of the no-smoking rule. Second, the discovery of the rolling papers then gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that respondent was carrying marihuana as well as cigarettes in her purse, and this suspicion justified the further exploration that turned up more evidence of drug-related activities. Pp. 343-347.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C. J., and POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Part II of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 348. [469 U.S. 325, 327] BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 351. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 353. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, and in Part I of which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 370.
Allan J. Nodes, Deputy Attorney General of New Jersey, reargued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief on reargument were Irwin J. Kimmelman, Attorney General, and Victoria Curtis Bramson, Linda L. Yoder, and Gilbert G. Miller, Deputy Attorneys General. With him on the briefs on the original argument were Mr. Kimmelman and Ms. Bramson.
Lois De Julio reargued the cause for respondent. With her on the briefs were Joseph H. Rodriguez and Andrew Dillmann. *
[ Footnote * ] Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the United States by Solicitor General Lee, Deputy Solicitor General Frey, and Kathryn A. Oberly; for the National Association of Secondary School Principals et al. by Ivan B. Gluckman; for the National School Boards Association by Gwendolyn H. Gregory, August W. Steinhilber, and Thomas A. Shannon; for the Washington Legal Foundation by Daniel J. Popeo and Paul D. Kamenar; and for the New Jersey School Boards Association by Paula A. Mullaly and Thomas F. Scully.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Mary L. Heen, Burt Neuborne, E. Richard Larson, Barry S. Goodman, and Charles S. Sims; and for the Legal Aid Society of the City of New York et al. by Janet Fink and Henry Weintraub.
Julia Penny Clark and Robert Chanin filed a brief for the National Education Association as amicus curiae.
JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari in this case to examine the appropriateness of the exclusionary rule as a remedy for searches carried out in violation of the Fourth Amendment by public school authorities. Our consideration of the proper application of the Fourth Amendment to the public schools, however, has led us to conclude that the search that gave rise to [469 U.S. 325, 328] the case now before us did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, we here address only the questions of the proper standard for assessing the legality of searches conducted by public school officials and the application of that standard to the facts of this case.
On March 7, 1980, a teacher at Piscataway High School in Middlesex County, N. J., discovered two girls smoking in a lavatory. One of the two girls was the respondent T. L. O., who at that time was a 14-year-old high school freshman. Because smoking in the lavatory was a violation of a school rule, the teacher took the two girls to the Principal's office, where they met with Assistant Vice Principal Theodore Choplick. In response to questioning by Mr. Choplick, T. L. O.'s companion admitted that she had violated the rule. T. L. O., however, denied that she had been smoking in the lavatory and claimed that she did not smoke at all.
Mr. Choplick asked T. L. O. to come into his private office and demanded to see her purse. Opening the purse, he found a pack of cigarettes, which he removed from the purse and held before T. L. O. as he accused her of having lied to him. As he reached into the purse for the cigarettes, Mr. Choplick also noticed a package of cigarette rolling papers. In his experience, possession of rolling papers by high school students was closely associated with the use of marihuana. Suspecting that a closer examination of the purse might yield further evidence of drug use, Mr. Choplick proceeded to search the purse thoroughly. The search revealed a small amount of marihuana, a pipe, a number of empty plastic bags, a substantial quantity of money in one-dollar bills, an index card that appeared to be a list of students who owed T. L. O. money, and two letters that implicated T. L. O. in marihuana dealing.
Mr. Choplick notified T. L. O.'s mother and the police, and turned the evidence of drug dealing over to the police. At [469 U.S. 325, 329] the request of the police, T. L. O.'s mother took her daughter to police headquarters, where T. L. O. confessed that she had been selling marihuana at the high school. On the basis of the confession and the evidence seized by Mr. Choplick, the State brought delinquency charges against T. L. O. in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Middlesex County. 1 Contending that Mr. Choplick's search of her purse violated the Fourth Amendment, T. L. O. moved to suppress the evidence found in her purse as well as her confession, which, she argued, was tainted by the allegedly unlawful search. The Juvenile Court denied the motion to suppress. State ex rel. T. L. O., 178 N. J. Super. 329, 428 A. 2d 1327 (1980). Although the court concluded that the Fourth Amendment did apply to searches carried out by school officials, it held that
- "a school official may properly conduct a search of a student's person if the official has a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is in the process of being committed, or reasonable cause to believe that the search is necessary to maintain school discipline or enforce school policies." Id., at 341, 428 A. 2d, at 1333 (emphasis in original).
On appeal from the final judgment of the Juvenile Court, a divided Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's finding that there had been no Fourth Amendment violation, but vacated the adjudication of delinquency and remanded for a determination whether T. L. O. had knowingly and voluntarily waived her Fifth Amendment rights before confessing. State ex rel. T. L. O., 185 N. J. Super. 279, 448 A. 2d 493 (1982). T. L. O. appealed the Fourth Amendment ruling, and the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division and ordered the suppression of the evidence found in T. L. O.'s purse. State ex rel. T. L. O., 94 N. J. 331, 463 A. 2d 934 (1983).
The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts that the Fourth Amendment applies to searches conducted by school officials. The court also rejected the State of New Jersey's argument that the exclusionary rule should not be employed to prevent the use in juvenile proceedings of evidence unlawfully seized by school officials. Declining to consider whether applying the rule to the fruits of searches by school officials would have any deterrent value, the court held simply that the precedents of this Court establish that "if an official search violates constitutional rights, the evidence is not admissible in criminal proceedings." Id., at 341, 463 A. 2d, at 939 (footnote omitted).
With respect to the question of the legality of the search before it, the court agreed with the Juvenile Court that a warrantless search by a school official does not violate the Fourth Amendment so long as the official "has reasonable grounds to believe that a student possesses evidence of illegal [469 U.S. 325, 331] activity or activity that would interfere with school discipline and order." Id., at 346, 463 A. 2d, at 941-942. However, the court, with two justices dissenting, sharply disagreed with the Juvenile Court's conclusion that the search of the purse was reasonable. According to the majority, the contents of T. L. O.'s purse had no bearing on the accusation against T. L. O., for possession of cigarettes (as opposed to smoking them in the lavatory) did not violate school rules, and a mere desire for evidence that would impeach T. L. O.'s claim that she did not smoke cigarettes could not justify the search. Moreover, even if a reasonable suspicion that T. L. O. had cigarettes in her purse would justify a search, Mr. Choplick had no such suspicion, as no one had furnished him with any specific information that there were cigarettes in the purse. Finally, leaving aside the question whether Mr. Choplick was justified in opening the purse, the court held that the evidence of drug use that he saw inside did not justify the extensive "rummaging" through T. L. O.'s papers and effects that followed. Id., at 347, 463 A. 2d, at 942-943.
We granted the State of New Jersey's petition for certiorari. 464 U.S. 991 (1983). Although the State had argued in the Supreme Court of New Jersey that the search of T. L. O.'s purse did not violate the Fourth Amendment, the petition for certiorari raised only the question whether the exclusionary rule should operate to bar consideration in juvenile delinquency proceedings of evidence unlawfully seized by a school official without the involvement of law enforcement officers. When this case was first argued last Term, the State conceded for the purpose of argument that the standard devised by the New Jersey Supreme Court for determining the legality of school searches was appropriate and that the court had correctly applied that standard; the State contended only that the remedial purposes of the exclusionary rule were not well served by applying it to searches conducted by public authorities not primarily engaged in law enforcement. [469 U.S. 325, 332]
Although we originally granted certiorari to decide the issue of the appropriate remedy in juvenile court proceedings for unlawful school searches, our doubts regarding the wisdom of deciding that question in isolation from the broader question of what limits, if any, the Fourth Amendment places on the activities of school authorities prompted us to order reargument on that question. 2 Having heard argument on [469 U.S. 325, 333] the legality of the search of T. L. O.'s purse, we are satisfied that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment. 3
In determining whether the search at issue in this case violated the Fourth Amendment, we are faced initially with the question whether that Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by public school officials. We hold that it does. [469 U.S. 325, 334]
It is now beyond dispute that "the Federal Constitution, by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by state officers." Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 213 (1960); accord, Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961); Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949). Equally indisputable is the proposition that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the rights of students against encroachment by public school officials:
- "The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures - Boards of Education not excepted. These have, of course, important, delicate, and highly discretionary functions, but none that they may not perform within the limits of the Bill of Rights. That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes." West Virginia State Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 637 (1943).
It may well be true that the evil toward which the Fourth Amendment was primarily directed was the resurrection of the pre-Revolutionary practice of using general warrants or "writs of assistance" to authorize searches for contraband by officers of the Crown. See United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 7 -8 (1977); Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 624 -629 (1886). But this Court has never limited the Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures to operations conducted by the police. Rather, the Court has long spoken of the Fourth Amendment's strictures as restraints imposed upon "governmental action" - that is, "upon the activities of sovereign authority." Burdeau v. McDowell, 256 U.S. 465, 475 (1921). Accordingly, we have held the Fourth Amendment applicable to the activities of civil as well as criminal authorities: building inspectors, see Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 528 (1967), Occupational Safety and Health Act inspectors, see Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U.S. 307, 312 -313 (1978), and even firemen entering privately owned premises to battle a fire, see Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 506 (1978), are all subject to the restraints imposed by the Fourth Amendment. As we observed in Camara v. Municipal Court, supra, "[t]he basic purpose of this Amendment, as recognized in countless decisions of this Court, is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials." 387 U.S., at 528 . Because the individual's interest in privacy and personal security "suffers whether the government's motivation is to investigate violations of criminal laws or breaches of other statutory or regulatory standards," Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., supra, at 312-313, it would be "anomalous to say that the individual and his private property are fully protected by the Fourth Amendment only when the individual is suspected of criminal behavior." Camara v. Municipal Court, supra, at 530. [469 U.S. 325, 336]
Notwithstanding the general applicability of the Fourth Amendment to the activities of civil authorities, a few courts have concluded that school officials are exempt from the dictates of the Fourth Amendment by virtue of the special nature of their authority over schoolchildren. See, e. g., R. C. M. v. State, 660 S. W. 2d 552 (Tex. App. 1983). Teachers and school administrators, it is said, act in loco parentis in their dealings with students: their authority is that of the parent, not the State, and is therefore not subject to the limits of the Fourth Amendment. Ibid.
Such reasoning is in tension with contemporary reality and the teachings of this Court. We have held school officials subject to the commands of the First Amendment, see Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565 (1975). If school authorities are state actors for purposes of the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and due process, it is difficult to understand why they should be deemed to be exercising parental rather than public authority when conducting searches of their students. More generally, the Court has recognized that "the concept of parental delegation" as a source of school authority is not entirely "consonant with compulsory education laws." Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 662 (1977). Today's public school officials do not merely exercise authority voluntarily conferred on them by individual parents; rather, they act in furtherance of publicly mandated educational and disciplinary policies. See, e. g., the opinion in State ex rel. T. L. O., 94 N. J., at 343, 463 A. 2d, at 934, 940, describing the New Jersey statutes regulating school disciplinary policies and establishing the authority of school officials over their students. In carrying out searches and other disciplinary functions pursuant to such policies, school officials act as representatives of the State, not merely as surrogates for the parents, and they [469 U.S. 325, 337] cannot claim the parents' immunity from the strictures of the Fourth Amendment.
To hold that the Fourth Amendment applies to searches conducted by school authorities is only to begin the inquiry into the standards governing such searches. Although the underlying command of the Fourth Amendment is always that searches and seizures be reasonable, what is reasonable depends on the context within which a search takes place. The determination of the standard of reasonableness governing any specific class of searches requires "balancing the need to search against the invasion which the search entails." Camara v. Municipal Court, supra, at 536-537. On one side of the balance are arrayed the individual's legitimate expectations of privacy and personal security; on the other, the government's need for effective methods to deal with breaches of public order.
We have recognized that even a limited search of the person is a substantial invasion of privacy. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 24 -25 (1967). We have also recognized that searches of closed items of personal luggage are intrusions on protected privacy interests, for "the Fourth Amendment provides protection to the owner of every container that conceals its contents from plain view." United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 822 -823 (1982). A search of a child's person or of a closed purse or other bag carried on her person, 5 no less [469 U.S. 325, 338] than a similar search carried out on an adult, is undoubtedly a severe violation of subjective expectations of privacy.
Of course, the Fourth Amendment does not protect subjective expectations of privacy that are unreasonable or otherwise "illegitimate." See, e. g., Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517 (1984); Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98 (1980). To receive the protection of the Fourth Amendment, an expectation of privacy must be one that society is "prepared to recognize as legitimate." Hudson v. Palmer, supra, at 526. The State of New Jersey has argued that because of the pervasive supervision to which children in the schools are necessarily subject, a child has virtually no legitimate expectation of privacy in articles of personal property "unnecessarily" carried into a school. This argument has two factual premises: (1) the fundamental incompatibility of expectations of privacy with the maintenance of a sound educational environment; and (2) the minimal interest of the child in bringing any items of personal property into the school. Both premises are severely flawed.
Although this Court may take notice of the difficulty of maintaining discipline in the public schools today, the situation is not so dire that students in the schools may claim no legitimate expectations of privacy. We have recently recognized that the need to maintain order in a prison is such that prisoners retain no legitimate expectations of privacy in their cells, but it goes almost without saying that "[t]he prisoner and the schoolchild stand in wholly different circumstances, separated by the harsh facts of criminal conviction and incarceration." Ingraham v. Wright, supra, at 669. We are not [469 U.S. 325, 339] yet ready to hold that the schools and the prisons need be equated for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.
Nor does the State's suggestion that children have no legitimate need to bring personal property into the schools seem well anchored in reality. Students at a minimum must bring to school not only the supplies needed for their studies, but also keys, money, and the necessaries of personal hygiene and grooming. In addition, students may carry on their persons or in purses or wallets such nondisruptive yet highly personal items as photographs, letters, and diaries. Finally, students may have perfectly legitimate reasons to carry with them articles of property needed in connection with extracurricular or recreational activities. In short, schoolchildren may find it necessary to carry with them a variety of legitimate, noncontraband items, and there is no reason to conclude that they have necessarily waived all rights to privacy in such items merely by bringing them onto school grounds.
Against the child's interest in privacy must be set the substantial interest of teachers and administrators in maintaining discipline in the classroom and on school grounds. Maintaining order in the classroom has never been easy, but in recent years, school disorder has often taken particularly ugly forms: drug use and violent crime in the schools have become major social problems. See generally 1 NIE, U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare, Violent Schools - Safe Schools: The Safe School Study Report to the Congress (1978). Even in schools that have been spared the most severe disciplinary problems, the preservation of order and a proper educational environment requires close supervision of schoolchildren, as well as the enforcement of rules against conduct that would be perfectly permissible if undertaken by an adult. "Events calling for discipline are frequent occurrences and sometimes require immediate, effective action." Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S., at 580 . Accordingly, we have recognized [469 U.S. 325, 340] that maintaining security and order in the schools requires a certain degree of flexibility in school disciplinary procedures, and we have respected the value of preserving the informality of the student-teacher relationship. See id., at 582-583; Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S., at 680 -682.
How, then, should we strike the balance between the schoolchild's legitimate expectations of privacy and the school's equally legitimate need to maintain an environment in which learning can take place? It is evident that the school setting requires some easing of the restrictions to which searches by public authorities are ordinarily subject. The warrant requirement, in particular, is unsuited to the school environment: requiring a teacher to obtain a warrant before searching a child suspected of an infraction of school rules (or of the criminal law) would unduly interfere with the maintenance of the swift and informal disciplinary procedures needed in the schools. Just as we have in other cases dispensed with the warrant requirement when "the burden of obtaining a warrant is likely to frustrate the governmental purpose behind the search," Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S., at 532 -533, we hold today that school officials need not obtain a warrant before searching a student who is under their authority.
The school setting also requires some modification of the level of suspicion of illicit activity needed to justify a search. Ordinarily, a search - even one that may permissibly be carried out without a warrant - must be based upon "probable cause" to believe that a violation of the law has occurred. See, e. g., Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 U.S. 266, 273 (1973); Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 62 -66 (1968). However, "probable cause" is not an irreducible requirement of a valid search. The fundamental command of the Fourth Amendment is that searches and seizures be reasonable, and although "both the concept of probable cause and the requirement of a warrant bear on the reasonableness of a search, . . . in certain limited circumstances neither is required." Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, supra, at 277 (POWELL, [469 U.S. 325, 341] J., concurring). Thus, we have in a number of cases recognized the legality of searches and seizures based on suspicions that, although "reasonable," do not rise to the level of probable cause. See, e. g., Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 881 (1975); Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654 -655 (1979); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976); cf. Camara v. Municipal Court, supra, at 534-539. Where a careful balancing of governmental and private interests suggests that the public interest is best served by a Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness that stops short of probable cause, we have not hesitated to adopt such a standard.
We join the majority of courts that have examined this issue 6 in concluding that the accommodation of the privacy interests of schoolchildren with the substantial need of teachers and administrators for freedom to maintain order in the schools does not require strict adherence to the requirement that searches be based on probable cause to believe that the subject of the search has violated or is violating the law. Rather, the legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search. Determining the reasonableness of any search involves a twofold inquiry: first, one must consider "whether the . . . action was justified at its inception," Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S., at 20 ; second, one must determine whether the search as actually conducted "was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place," ibid. Under ordinary circumstances, a search of a student by a teacher or other school official 7 will be [469 U.S. 325, 342] "justified at its inception" when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school. 8 Such a search will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction. 9
This standard will, we trust, neither unduly burden the efforts of school authorities to maintain order in their schools [469 U.S. 325, 343] nor authorize unrestrained intrusions upon the privacy of schoolchildren. By focusing attention on the question of reasonableness, the standard will spare teachers and school administrators the necessity of schooling themselves in the niceties of probable cause and permit them to regulate their conduct according to the dictates of reason and common sense. At the same time, the reasonableness standard should ensure that the interests of students will be invaded no more than is necessary to achieve the legitimate end of preserving order in the schools.
There remains the question of the legality of the search in this case. We recognize that the "reasonable grounds" standard applied by the New Jersey Supreme Court in its consideration of this question is not substantially different from the standard that we have adopted today. Nonetheless, we believe that the New Jersey court's application of that standard to strike down the search of T. L. O.'s purse reflects a somewhat crabbed notion of reasonableness. Our review of the facts surrounding the search leads us to conclude that the search was in no sense unreasonable for Fourth Amendment purposes. 10
The incident that gave rise to this case actually involved two separate searches, with the first - the search for cigarettes - providing the suspicion that gave rise to the second [469 U.S. 325, 344] - the search for marihuana. Although it is the fruits of the second search that are at issue here, the validity of the search for marihuana must depend on the reasonableness of the initial search for cigarettes, as there would have been no reason to suspect that T. L. O. possessed marihuana had the first search not taken place. Accordingly, it is to the search for cigarettes that we first turn our attention.
The New Jersey Supreme Court pointed to two grounds for its holding that the search for cigarettes was unreasonable. First, the court observed that possession of cigarettes was not in itself illegal or a violation of school rules. Because the contents of T. L. O.'s purse would therefore have "no direct bearing on the infraction" of which she was accused (smoking in a lavatory where smoking was prohibited), there was no reason to search her purse. 11 Second, even assuming that a search of T. L. O.'s purse might under some circumstances be reasonable in light of the accusation made against T. L. O., the New Jersey court concluded that Mr. Choplick in this particular case had no reasonable grounds to suspect that T. L. O. had cigarettes in her purse. At best, according [469 U.S. 325, 345] to the court, Mr. Choplick had "a good hunch." 94 N. J., at 347, 463 A. 2d, at 942.
Both these conclusions are implausible. T. L. O. had been accused of smoking, and had denied the accusation in the strongest possible terms when she stated that she did not smoke at all. Surely it cannot be said that under these circumstances, T. L. O.'s possession of cigarettes would be irrelevant to the charges against her or to her response to those charges. T. L. O.'s possession of cigarettes, once it was discovered, would both corroborate the report that she had been smoking and undermine the credibility of her defense to the charge of smoking. To be sure, the discovery of the cigarettes would not prove that T. L. O. had been smoking in the lavatory; nor would it, strictly speaking, necessarily be inconsistent with her claim that she did not smoke at all. But it is universally recognized that evidence, to be relevant to an inquiry, need not conclusively prove the ultimate fact in issue, but only have "any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Fed. Rule Evid. 401. The relevance of T. L. O.'s possession of cigarettes to the question whether she had been smoking and to the credibility of her denial that she smoked supplied the necessary "nexus" between the item searched for and the infraction under investigation. See Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, 306 -307 (1967). Thus, if Mr. Choplick in fact had a reasonable suspicion that T. L. O. had cigarettes in her purse, the search was justified despite the fact that the cigarettes, if found, would constitute "mere evidence" of a violation. Ibid.
Of course, the New Jersey Supreme Court also held that Mr. Choplick had no reasonable suspicion that the purse would contain cigarettes. This conclusion is puzzling. A teacher had reported that T. L. O. was smoking in the lavatory. Certainly this report gave Mr. Choplick reason to suspect that T. L. O. was carrying cigarettes with her; and [469 U.S. 325, 346] if she did have cigarettes, her purse was the obvious place in which to find them. Mr. Choplick's suspicion that there were cigarettes in the purse was not an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or `hunch,'" Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S., at 27 ; rather, it was the sort of "common-sense conclusio[n] about human behavior" upon which "practical people" - including government officials - are entitled to rely. United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 418 (1981). Of course, even if the teacher's report were true, T. L. O. might not have had a pack of cigarettes with her; she might have borrowed a cigarette from someone else or have been sharing a cigarette with another student. But the requirement of reasonable suspicion is not a requirement of absolute certainty: "sufficient probability, not certainty, is the touchstone of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment . . . ." Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 804 (1971). Because the hypothesis that T. L. O. was carrying cigarettes in her purse was itself not unreasonable, it is irrelevant that other hypotheses were also consistent with the teacher's accusation. Accordingly, it cannot be said that Mr. Choplick acted unreasonably when he examined T. L. O.'s purse to see if it contained cigarettes. 12 [469 U.S. 325, 347]
Our conclusion that Mr. Choplick's decision to open T. L. O.'s purse was reasonable brings us to the question of the further search for marihuana once the pack of cigarettes was located. The suspicion upon which the search for marihuana was founded was provided when Mr. Choplick observed a package of rolling papers in the purse as he removed the pack of cigarettes. Although T. L. O. does not dispute the reasonableness of Mr. Choplick's belief that the rolling papers indicated the presence of marihuana, she does contend that the scope of the search Mr. Choplick conducted exceeded permissible bounds when he seized and read certain letters that implicated T. L. O. in drug dealing. This argument, too, is unpersuasive. The discovery of the rolling papers concededly gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that T. L. O. was carrying marihuana as well as cigarettes in her purse. This suspicion justified further exploration of T. L. O.'s purse, which turned up more evidence of drug-related activities: a pipe, a number of plastic bags of the type commonly used to store marihuana, a small quantity of marihuana, and a fairly substantial amount of money. Under these circumstances, it was not unreasonable to extend the search to a separate zippered compartment of the purse; and when a search of that compartment revealed an index card containing a list of "people who owe me money" as well as two letters, the inference that T. L. O. was involved in marihuana trafficking was substantial enough to justify Mr. Choplick in examining the letters to determine whether they contained any further evidence. In short, we cannot conclude that the search for marihuana was unreasonable in any respect.
Because the search resulting in the discovery of the evidence of marihuana dealing by T. L. O. was reasonable, the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision to exclude that evidence [469 U.S. 325, 348] from T. L. O.'s juvenile delinquency proceedings on Fourth Amendment grounds was erroneous. Accordingly, the judgment of the Supreme Court of New Jersey is
Footnotes[ Footnote 1 ] T. L. O. also received a 3-day suspension from school for smoking cigarettes in a nonsmoking area and a 7-day suspension for possession of marihuana. On T. L. O.'s motion, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, set aside the 7-day suspension on the ground that it was based on evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (T. L. O.) v. Piscataway Bd. of Ed., No. C. 2865-79 (Super. Ct. N. J., Ch. Div., Mar. 31, 1980). The Board of Education apparently did not appeal the decision of the Chancery Division.
[ Footnote 2 ] State and federal courts considering these questions have struggled to accommodate the interests protected by the Fourth Amendment and the interest of the States in providing a safe environment conducive to education in the public schools. Some courts have resolved the tension between these interests by giving full force to one or the other side of the balance. Thus, in a number of cases courts have held that school officials conducting in-school searches of students are private parties acting in loco parentis and are therefore not subject to the constraints of the Fourth Amendment. See, e. g., D. R. C. v. State, 646 P.2d 252 (Alaska App. 1982); In re G., 11 Cal. App. 3d 1193, 90 Cal. Rptr. 361 (1970); In re Donaldson, 269 Cal. App. 2d 509, 75 Cal. Rptr. 220 (1969); R. C. M. v. State, 660 S. W. 2d 552 (Tex. App. 1983); Mercer v. State, 450 S. W. 2d 715 (Tex. Civ. App. 1970). At least one court has held, on the other hand, that the Fourth Amendment applies in full to in-school searches by school officials and that a search conducted without probable cause is unreasonable, see State v. Mora, 307 So.2d 317 (La.), vacated, 423 U.S. 809 (1975), on remand, 330 So.2d 900 (La. 1976); others have held or suggested that the probable-cause standard is applicable at least where the police are involved in a search, see M. v. Board of Ed. Ball-Chatham Community Unit School Dist. No. 5, 429 F. Supp. 288, 292 (SD Ill. 1977); Picha v. Wielgos, 410 F. Supp. 1214, 1219-1221 (ND Ill. 1976); State v. Young, 234 Ga. 488, 498, 216 S. E. 2d 586, 594 (1975); or where the search is highly intrusive, see M. M. v. Anker, 607 F.2d 588, 589 (CA2 1979).
The majority of courts that have addressed the issue of the Fourth Amendment in the schools have, like the Supreme Court of New Jersey in this case, reached a middle position: the Fourth Amendment applies to searches conducted by school authorities, but the special needs of the school environment require assessment of the legality of such searches against a standard less exacting than that of probable cause. These courts have, by and large, upheld warrantless searches by school authorities provided that they are supported by a reasonable suspicion that the search will uncover evidence of an infraction of school disciplinary rules or a violation of the law. See, e. g., Tarter v. Raybuck, No. 83-3174 (CA6, Aug. 31, 1984); Bilbrey v. Brown, 738 F.2d 1462 (CA9 1984); Horton v. Goose Creek [469 U.S. 325, 333] Independent School Dist., 690 F.2d 470 (CA5 1982); Bellnier v. Lund, 438 F. Supp. 47 (NDNY 1977); M. v. Board of Ed. Ball-Chatham Community Unit School Dist. No. 5, supra; In re W., 29 Cal. App. 3d 777, 105 Cal. Rptr. 775 (1973); State v. Baccino, 282 A. 2d 869 (Del. Super. 1971); State v. D. T. W., 425 So.2d 1383 (Fla. App. 1983); State v. Young, supra; In re J. A., 85 Ill. App. 3d 567, 406 N. E. 2d 958 (1980); People v. Ward, 62 Mich. App. 46, 233 N. W. 2d 180 (1975); Doe v. State, 88 N. M. 347, 540 P.2d 827 (App. 1975); People v. D., 34 N. Y. 2d 483, 315 N. E. 2d 466 (1974); State v. McKinnon, 88 Wash. 2d 75, 558 P.2d 781 (1977); In re L. L., 90 Wis. 2d 585, 280 N. W. 2d 343 (App. 1979).
Although few have considered the matter, courts have also split over whether the exclusionary rule is an appropriate remedy for Fourth Amendment violations committed by school authorities. The Georgia courts have held that although the Fourth Amendment applies to the schools, the exclusionary rule does not. See, e. g., State v. Young, supra; State v. Lamb, 137 Ga. App. 437, 224 S. E. 2d 51 (1976). Other jurisdictions have applied the rule to exclude the fruits of unlawful school searches from criminal trials and delinquency proceedings. See State v. Mora, supra; People v. D., supra.
[ Footnote 3 ] 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.
[ Footnote 4 ] Cf. Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977) (holding that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment applies only to [469 U.S. 325, 335] punishments imposed after criminal convictions and hence does not apply to the punishment of schoolchildren by public school officials).
[ Footnote 5 ] We do not address the question, not presented by this case, whether a schoolchild has a legitimate expectation of privacy in lockers, desks, or other school property provided for the storage of school supplies. Nor do we express any opinion on the standards (if any) governing searches of such areas by school officials or by other public authorities acting at the request of school officials. Compare Zamora v. Pomeroy, 639 F.2d 662, 670 (CA10 1981) ("Inasmuch as the school had assumed joint control of the locker it cannot be successfully maintained that the school did not have a right to inspect it"), and People v. Overton, 24 N. Y. 2d 522, 249 N. E. 2d 366 (1969) (school administrators have power to consent to search of a [469 U.S. 325, 338] student's locker), with State v. Engerud, 94 N. J. 331, 348, 463 A. 2d 934, 943 (1983) ("We are satisfied that in the context of this case the student had an expectation of privacy in the contents of his locker. . . . For the four years of high school, the school locker is a home away from home. In it the student stores the kind of personal `effects' protected by the Fourth Amendment").
[ Footnote 6 ] See cases cited in n. 2, supra.
[ Footnote 7 ] We here consider only searches carried out by school authorities acting alone and on their own authority. This case does not present the question of the appropriate standard for assessing the legality of searches conducted by school officials in conjunction with or at the behest of law enforcement agencies, and we express no opinion on that question. Cf. Picha v. Wielgos, 410 F. Supp. 1214, 1219-1221 (ND Ill. 1976) (holding probable cause standard applicable to searches involving the police).
[ Footnote 8 ] We do not decide whether individualized suspicion is an essential element of the reasonableness standard we adopt for searches by school authorities. In other contexts, however, we have held that although "some quantum of individualized suspicion is usually a prerequisite to a constitutional search or seizure[,] . . . the Fourth Amendment imposes no irreducible requirement of such suspicion." United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 560 -561 (1976). See also Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523 (1967). Exceptions to the requirement of individualized suspicion are generally appropriate only where the privacy interests implicated by a search are minimal and where "other safeguards" are available "to assure that the individual's reasonable expectation of privacy is not `subject to the discretion of the official in the field.'" Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654 -655 (1979) (citation omitted). Because the search of T. L. O.'s purse was based upon an individualized suspicion that she had violated school rules, see infra, at 343-347, we need not consider the circumstances that might justify school authorities in conducting searches unsupported by individualized suspicion.
[ Footnote 9 ] Our reference to the nature of the infraction is not intended as an endorsement of JUSTICE STEVENS' suggestion that some rules regarding student conduct are by nature too "trivial" to justify a search based upon reasonable suspicion. See post, at 377-382. We are unwilling to adopt a standard under which the legality of a search is dependent upon a judge's evaluation of the relative importance of various school rules. The maintenance of discipline in the schools requires not only that students be restrained from assaulting one another, abusing drugs and alcohol, and committing other crimes, but also that students conform themselves to the standards of conduct prescribed by school authorities. We have "repeatedly emphasized the need for affirming the comprehensive authority of the States and of school officials, consistent with fundamental constitutional safeguards, to prescribe and control conduct in the schools." Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 507 [469 U.S. 325, 343] (1969). The promulgation of a rule forbidding specified conduct presumably reflects a judgment on the part of school officials that such conduct is destructive of school order or of a proper educational environment. Absent any suggestion that the rule violates some substantive constitutional guarantee, the courts should, as a general matter, defer to that judgment and refrain from attempting to distinguish between rules that are important to the preservation of order in the schools and rules that are not.
[ Footnote 10 ] Of course, New Jersey may insist on a more demanding standard under its own Constitution or statutes. In that case, its courts would not purport to be applying the Fourth Amendment when they invalidate a search.
[ Footnote 11 ] JUSTICE STEVENS interprets these statements as a holding that enforcement of the school's smoking regulations was not sufficiently related to the goal of maintaining discipline or order in the school to justify a search under the standard adopted by the New Jersey court. See post, at 382-384. We do not agree that this is an accurate characterization of the New Jersey Supreme Court's opinion. The New Jersey court did not hold that the school's smoking rules were unrelated to the goal of maintaining discipline or order, nor did it suggest that a search that would produce evidence bearing directly on an accusation that a student had violated the smoking rules would be impermissible under the court's reasonable-suspicion standard; rather, the court concluded that any evidence a search of T. L. O.'s purse was likely to produce would not have a sufficiently direct bearing on the infraction to justify a search - a conclusion with which we cannot agree for the reasons set forth infra, at 345. JUSTICE STEVENS' suggestion that the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision rested on the perceived triviality of the smoking infraction appears to be a reflection of his own views rather than those of the New Jersey court.
[ Footnote 12 ] T. L. O. contends that even if it was reasonable for Mr. Choplick to open her purse to look for cigarettes, it was not reasonable for him to reach in and take the cigarettes out of her purse once he found them. Had he not removed the cigarettes from the purse, she asserts, he would not have observed the rolling papers that suggested the presence of marihuana, and the search for marihuana could not have taken place. T. L. O.'s argument is based on the fact that the cigarettes were not "contraband," as no school rule forbade her to have them. Thus, according to T. L. O., the cigarettes were not subject to seizure or confiscation by school authorities, and Mr. Choplick was not entitled to take them out of T. L. O.'s purse regardless of whether he was entitled to peer into the purse to see if they were there. Such hairsplitting argumentation has no place in an inquiry addressed to the issue of reasonableness. If Mr. Choplick could permissibly search T. L. O.'s purse for cigarettes, it hardly seems reasonable to suggest that his natural reaction to finding them - picking them up - could [469 U.S. 325, 347] be a constitutional violation. We find that neither in opening the purse nor in reaching into it to remove the cigarettes did Mr. Choplick violate the Fourth Amendment.
JUSTICE POWELL, with whom JUSTICE O'CONNOR joins, concurring.
I agree with the Court's decision, and generally with its opinion. I would place greater emphasis, however, on the special characteristics of elementary and secondary schools that make it unnecessary to afford students the same constitutional protections granted adults and juveniles in a nonschool setting.
In any realistic sense, students within the school environment have a lesser expectation of privacy than members of the population generally. They spend the school hours in close association with each other, both in the classroom and during recreation periods. The students in a particular class often know each other and their teachers quite well. Of necessity, teachers have a degree of familiarity with, and authority over, their students that is unparalleled except perhaps in the relationship between parent and child. It is simply unrealistic to think that students have the same subjective expectation of privacy as the population generally. But for purposes of deciding this case, I can assume that children in school - no less than adults - have privacy interests that society is prepared to recognize as legitimate.
However one may characterize their privacy expectations, students properly are afforded some constitutional protections. In an often quoted statement, the Court said that students do not "shed their constitutional rights . . . at the schoolhouse gate." Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969). The Court also has "emphasized the need for affirming the comprehensive authority of the states and of school officials . . . [469 U.S. 325, 349] to prescribe and control conduct in the schools." Id., at 507. See also Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968). The Court has balanced the interests of the student against the school officials' need to maintain discipline by recognizing qualitative differences between the constitutional remedies to which students and adults are entitled.
In Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565 (1975), the Court recognized a constitutional right to due process, and yet was careful to limit the exercise of this right by a student who challenged a disciplinary suspension. The only process found to be "due" was notice and a hearing described as "rudimentary"; it amounted to no more than "the disciplinarian . . . informally discuss[ing] the alleged misconduct with the student minutes after it has occurred." Id., at 581-582. In Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977), we declined to extend the Eighth Amendment to prohibit the use of corporal punishment of schoolchildren as authorized by Florida law. We emphasized in that opinion that familiar constraints in the school, and also in the community, provide substantial protection against the violation of constitutional rights by school authorities. "[A]t the end of the school day, the child is invariably free to return home. Even while at school, the child brings with him the support of family and friends and is rarely apart from teachers and other pupils who may witness and protest any instances of mistreatment." Id., at 670. The Ingraham Court further pointed out that the "openness of the public school and its supervision by the community afford significant safeguards" against the violation of constitutional rights. Ibid.
The special relationship between teacher and student also distinguishes the setting within which schoolchildren operate. Law enforcement officers function as adversaries of criminal suspects. These officers have the responsibility to investigate criminal activity, to locate and arrest those who violate our laws, and to facilitate the charging and bringing of such persons to trial. Rarely does this type of adversarial [469 U.S. 325, 350] relationship exist between school authorities and pupils. 1 Instead, there is a commonality of interests between teachers and their pupils. The attitude of the typical teacher is one of personal responsibility for the student's welfare as well as for his education.
The primary duty of school officials and teachers, as the Court states, is the education and training of young people. A State has a compelling interest in assuring that the schools meet this responsibility. Without first establishing discipline and maintaining order, teachers cannot begin to educate their students. And apart from education, the school has the obligation to protect pupils from mistreatment by other children, and also to protect teachers themselves from violence by the few students whose conduct in recent years has prompted national concern. For me, it would be unreasonable and at odds with history to argue that the full panoply of constitutional rules applies with the same force and effect in the schoolhouse as it does in the enforcement of criminal laws. 2
In sum, although I join the Court's opinion and its holding, 3 my emphasis is somewhat different.
[ Footnote 1 ] Unlike police officers, school authorities have no law enforcement responsibility or indeed any obligation to be familiar with the criminal laws. Of course, as illustrated by this case, school authorities have a layman's familiarity with the types of crimes that occur frequently in our schools: the distribution and use of drugs, theft, and even violence against teachers as well as fellow students.
[ Footnote 2 ] As noted above, decisions of this Court have never held to the contrary. The law recognizes a host of distinctions between the rights and duties of children and those of adults. See Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 591 (1975) (POWELL, J., dissenting.)
[ Footnote 3 ] The Court's holding is that "when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that [a] search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school," a search of the student's person or belongings is justified. Ante, at 342. This is in accord with the Court's summary of the views of a majority of the state and federal courts that have addressed this issue. See ante, at 332-333, n. 2. [469 U.S. 325, 351]
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concurring in the judgment.
I join the judgment of the Court and agree with much that is said in its opinion. I write separately, however, because I believe the Court omits a crucial step in its analysis of whether a school search must be based upon probable cause. The Court correctly states that we have recognized limited exceptions to the probable-cause requirement "[w]here a careful balancing of governmental and private interests suggests that the public interest is best served" by a lesser standard. Ante, at 341. I believe that we have used such a balancing test, rather than strictly applying the Fourth Amendment's Warrant and Probable-Cause Clause, only when we were confronted with "a special law enforcement need for greater flexibility." Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 514 (1983) (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting). I pointed out in United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696 (1983):
- "While the Fourth Amendment speaks in terms of freedom from unreasonable [searches], the Amendment does not leave the reasonableness of most [searches] to the judgment of courts or government officers; the Framers of the Amendment balanced the interests involved and decided that a [search] is reasonable only if supported by a judicial warrant based on probable cause. See Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S. 730, 744 -745 (1983) (POWELL, J., concurring); United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, 70 (1950) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting)." Id., at 722 (opinion concurring in judgment).
Thus, for example, in determining that police can conduct a limited "stop and frisk" upon less than probable cause, this Court relied upon the fact that "as a practical matter" the stop and frisk could not be subjected to a warrant and probable-cause requirement, because a law enforcement officer must be able to take immediate steps to assure himself that the person he has stopped to question is not armed with a weapon that could be used against him. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 -21, 23-24 (1968). Similarly, this Court's holding that a roving Border Patrol may stop a car and briefly question its occupants upon less than probable cause was based in part upon "the absence of practical alternatives for policing the border." United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 881 (1975). See also Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1049 , n. 14 (1983); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 557 (1976); Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 537 (1967).
The Court's implication that the balancing test is the rule rather than the exception is troubling for me because it is unnecessary in this case. The elementary and secondary school setting presents a special need for flexibility justifying a departure from the balance struck by the Framers. As JUSTICE POWELL notes, "[w]ithout first establishing discipline and maintaining order, teachers cannot begin to educate their students." Ante, at 350. Maintaining order in the classroom can be a difficult task. A single teacher often must watch over a large number of students, and, as any parent knows, children at certain ages are inclined to test the outer boundaries of acceptable conduct and to imitate the misbehavior of a peer if that misbehavior is not dealt with quickly. Every adult remembers from his own schooldays the havoc a water pistol or peashooter can wreak until it is taken away. Thus, the Court has recognized that "[e]vents calling for discipline are frequent occurrences and sometimes require immediate, effective action." Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 580 (1975). Indeed, because drug use and possession of weapons have become increasingly common [469 U.S. 325, 353] among young people, an immediate response frequently is required not just to maintain an environment conducive to learning, but to protect the very safety of students and school personnel.
Such immediate action obviously would not be possible if a teacher were required to secure a warrant before searching a student. Nor would it be possible if a teacher could not conduct a necessary search until the teacher thought there was probable cause for the search. A teacher has neither the training nor the day-to-day experience in the complexities of probable cause that a law enforcement officer possesses, and is ill-equipped to make a quick judgment about the existence of probable cause. The time required for a teacher to ask the questions or make the observations that are necessary to turn reasonable grounds into probable cause is time during which the teacher, and other students, are diverted from the essential task of education. A teacher's focus is, and should be, on teaching and helping students, rather than on developing evidence against a particular troublemaker.
Education "is perhaps the most important function" of government, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954), and government has a heightened obligation to safeguard students whom it compels to attend school. The special need for an immediate response to behavior that threatens either the safety of schoolchildren and teachers or the educational process itself justifies the Court in excepting school searches from the warrant and probable-cause requirement, and in applying a standard determined by balancing the relevant interests. I agree with the standard the Court has announced, and with its application of the standard to the facts of this case. I therefore concur in its judgment.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I fully agree with Part II of the Court's opinion. Teachers, like all other government officials, must conform their [469 U.S. 325, 354] conduct to the Fourth Amendment's protections of personal privacy and personal security. As JUSTICE STEVENS points out, post, at 373-374, 385-386, this principle is of particular importance when applied to schoolteachers, for children learn as much by example as by exposition. It would be incongruous and futile to charge teachers with the task of embuing their students with an understanding of our system of constitutional democracy, while at the same time immunizing those same teachers from the need to respect constitutional protections. See Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 864 -865 (1982) (plurality opinion); West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 637 (1943).
I do not, however, otherwise join the Court's opinion. Today's decision sanctions school officials to conduct fullscale searches on a "reasonableness" standard whose only definite content is that it is not the same test as the "probable cause" standard found in the text of the Fourth Amendment. In adopting this unclear, unprecedented, and unnecessary departure from generally applicable Fourth Amendment standards, the Court carves out a broad exception to standards that this Court has developed over years of considering Fourth Amendment problems. Its decision is supported neither by precedent nor even by a fair application of the "balancing test" it proclaims in this very opinion.
Three basic principles underly this Court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. First, warrantless searches are per se unreasonable, subject only to a few specifically delineated and well-recognized exceptions. See, e. g., Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967); accord, Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 748 -749 (1984); United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 701 (1983); Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 211 -212 (1981); Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 (1968); Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13 -14 (1948). Second, full-scale searches - whether conducted in accordance with the warrant [469 U.S. 325, 355] requirement or pursuant to one of its exceptions - are "reasonable" in Fourth Amendment terms only on a showing of probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that evidence of the crime will be found in the place to be searched. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964); Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 479 (1963); Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175 -176 (1949). Third, categories of intrusions that are substantially less intrusive than full-scale searches or seizures may be justifiable in accordance with a balancing test even absent a warrant or probable cause, provided that the balancing test used gives sufficient weight to the privacy interests that will be infringed. Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 210 (1979); Terry v. Ohio, supra.
Assistant Vice Principal Choplick's thorough excavation of T. L. O.'s purse was undoubtedly a serious intrusion on her privacy. Unlike the searches in Terry v. Ohio, supra, or Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143 (1972), the search at issue here encompassed a detailed and minute examination of respondent's pocketbook, in which the contents of private papers and letters were thoroughly scrutinized. 1 Wisely, neither petitioner nor the Court today attempts to justify the search of T. L. O.'s pocketbook as a minimally intrusive search in the Terry line. To be faithful to the Court's settled doctrine, the inquiry therefore must focus on the warrant and probable-cause requirements.
I agree that schoolteachers or principals, when not acting as agents of law enforcement authorities, generally may conduct a search of their students' belongings without first [469 U.S. 325, 356] obtaining a warrant. To agree with the Court on this point is to say that school searches may justifiably be held to that extent to constitute an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Such an exception, however, is not to be justified, as the Court apparently holds, by assessing net social value through application of an unguided "balancing test" in which "the individual's legitimate expectations of privacy and personal security" are weighed against "the government's need for effective methods to deal with breaches of public order." Ante, at 337. The Warrant Clause is something more than an exhortation to this Court to maximize social welfare as we see fit. It requires that the authorities must obtain a warrant before conducting a full-scale search. The undifferentiated governmental interest in law enforcement is insufficient to justify an exception to the warrant requirement. Rather, some special governmental interest beyond the need merely to apprehend lawbreakers is necessary to justify a categorical exception to the warrant requirement. For the most part, special governmental needs sufficient to override the warrant requirement flow from "exigency" - that is, from the press of time that makes obtaining a warrant either impossible or hopelessly infeasible. See United States v. Place, supra, at 701-702; Mincey v. Arizona, supra, at 393-394; Johnson v. United States, supra, at 15. Only after finding an extraordinary governmental interest of this kind do we - or ought we - engage in a balancing test to determine if a warrant should nonetheless be required. 2 [469 U.S. 325, 357]
To require a showing of some extraordinary governmental interest before dispensing with the warrant requirement is not to undervalue society's need to apprehend violators of the criminal law. To be sure, forcing law enforcement personnel to obtain a warrant before engaging in a search will predictably deter the police from conducting some searches that they would otherwise like to conduct. But this is not an unintended result of the Fourth Amendment's protection of privacy; rather, it is the very purpose for which the Amendment was thought necessary. Only where the governmental interests at stake exceed those implicated in any ordinary law enforcement context - that is, only where there is some extraordinary governmental interest involved - is it legitimate to engage in a balancing test to determine whether a warrant is indeed necessary.
In this case, such extraordinary governmental interests do exist and are sufficient to justify an exception to the warrant requirement. Students are necessarily confined for most of the schoolday in close proximity to each other and to the school staff. I agree with the Court that we can take judicial notice of the serious problems of drugs and violence that plague our schools. As JUSTICE BLACKMUN notes, teachers must not merely "maintain an environment conducive to learning" among children who "are inclined to test the outer boundaries of acceptable conduct," but must also "protect the very safety of students and school personnel." Ante, at 352-353. A teacher or principal could neither carry out essential teaching functions nor adequately protect students' safety if required to wait for a warrant before conducting a necessary search.
I emphatically disagree with the Court's decision to cast aside the constitutional probable-cause standard when assessing the constitutional validity of a schoolhouse search. The Court's decision jettisons the probable-cause standard - the only standard that finds support in the text of the Fourth [469 U.S. 325, 358] Amendment - on the basis of its Rohrschach-like "balancing test." Use of such a "balancing test" to determine the standard for evaluating the validity of a full-scale search represents a sizable innovation in Fourth Amendment analysis. This innovation finds support neither in precedent nor policy and portends a dangerous weakening of the purpose of the Fourth Amendment to protect the privacy and security of our citizens. Moreover, even if this Court's historic understanding of the Fourth Amendment were mistaken and a balancing test of some kind were appropriate, any such test that gave adequate weight to the privacy and security interests protected by the Fourth Amendment would not reach the preordained result the Court's conclusory analysis reaches today. Therefore, because I believe that the balancing test used by the Court today is flawed both in its inception and in its execution, I respectfully dissent.
An unbroken line of cases in this Court have held that probable cause is a prerequisite for a full-scale search. In Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 149 (1925), the Court held that "[o]n reason and authority the true rule is that if the search and seizure . . . are made upon probable cause . . . the search and seizure are valid." Under our past decisions probable cause - which exists where "the facts and circumstances within [the officials'] knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information [are] sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief" that a criminal offense had occurred and the evidence would be found in the suspected place, id., at 162 - is the constitutional minimum for justifying a full-scale search, regardless of whether it is conducted pursuant to a warrant or, as in Carroll, within one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. Henry v. United States, 361 U.S. 98, 104 (1959) (Carroll "merely relaxed the requirements for a warrant on grounds of practicality," but "did not dispense [469 U.S. 325, 359] with the need for probable cause"); accord, Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 51 (1970) ("In enforcing the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Court has insisted upon probable cause as a minimum requirement for a reasonable search permitted by the Constitution"). 3
Our holdings that probable cause is a prerequisite to a full-scale search are based on the relationship between the two Clauses of the Fourth Amendment. The first Clause ("The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . .") states the purpose of the Amendment and its coverage. The second Clause (". . . and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause . . .") gives content to the word "unreasonable" in the first Clause. "For all but . . . narrowly defined intrusions, the requisite `balancing' has been performed in centuries of precedent and is embodied in the principle that seizures are `reasonable' only if supported by probable cause." Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S., at 214 .
I therefore fully agree with the Court that "the underlying command of the Fourth Amendment is always that searches and seizures be reasonable." Ante, at 337. But this "underlying command" is not directly interpreted in each category of cases by some amorphous "balancing test." Rather, the provisions of the Warrant Clause - a warrant and probable cause - provide the yardstick against which official searches [469 U.S. 325, 360] and seizures are to be measured. The Fourth Amendment neither requires nor authorizes the conceptual free-for-all that ensues when an unguided balancing test is used to assess specific categories of searches. If the search in question is more than a minimally intrusive Terry stop, the constitutional probable-cause standard determines its validity.
To be sure, the Court recognizes that probable cause "ordinarily" is required to justify a full-scale search and that the existence of probable cause "bears on" the validity of the search. Ante, at 340-341. Yet the Court fails to cite any case in which a full-scale intrusion upon privacy interests has been justified on less than probable cause. The line of cases begun by Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), provides no support, for they applied a balancing test only in the context of minimally intrusive searches that served crucial law enforcement interests. The search in Terry itself, for instance, was a "limited search of the outer clothing." Id., at 30. The type of border stop at issue in United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 880 (1975), usually "consume[d] no more than a minute"; the Court explicitly noted that "any further detention . . . must be based on consent or probable cause." Id., at 882. See also United States v. Hensley, ante, at 224 (momentary stop); United States v. Place, 462 U.S., at 706 -707 (brief detention of luggage for canine "sniff"); Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977) (per curiam) (brief frisk after stop for traffic violation); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 560 (1976) (characterizing intrusion as "minimal"); Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143 (1972) (stop and frisk). In short, all of these cases involved "`seizures' so substantially less intrusive than arrests that the general rule requiring probable cause to make Fourth Amendment `seizures' reasonable could be replaced by a balancing test." Dunaway, supra, at 210.
Nor do the "administrative search" cases provide any comfort for the Court. In Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523 (1967), the Court held that the probable-cause standard governed even administrative searches. Although [469 U.S. 325, 361] the Camara Court recognized that probable-cause standards themselves may have to be somewhat modified to take into account the special nature of administrative searches, the Court did so only after noting that "because [housing code] inspections are neither personal in nature nor aimed at the discovery of evidence of crime, they involve a relatively limited invasion of the urban citizen's privacy." Id., at 537. Subsequent administrative search cases have similarly recognized that such searches intrude upon areas whose owners harbor a significantly decreased expectation of privacy, see, e. g., Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S. 594, 598 -599 (1981), thus circumscribing the injury to Fourth Amendment interests caused by the search.
Considerations of the deepest significance for the freedom of our citizens counsel strict adherence to the principle that no search may be conducted where the official is not in possession of probable cause - that is, where the official does not know of "facts and circumstances [that] warrant a prudent man in believing that the offense has been committed." Henry v. United States, 361 U.S., at 102 ; see also id., at 100-101 (discussing history of probable-cause standard). The Fourth Amendment was designed not merely to protect against official intrusions whose social utility was less as measured by some "balancing test" than its intrusion on individual privacy; it was designed in addition to grant the individual a zone of privacy whose protections could be breached only where the "reasonable" requirements of the probable-cause standard were met. Moved by whatever momentary evil has aroused their fears, officials - perhaps even supported by a majority of citizens - may be tempted to conduct searches that sacrifice the liberty of each citizen to assuage the perceived evil. 4 But the Fourth Amendment [469 U.S. 325, 362] rests on the principle that a true balance between the individual and society depends on the recognition of "the right to be let alone - the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). That right protects the privacy and security of the individual unless the authorities can cross a specific threshold of need, designated by the term "probable cause." I cannot agree with the Court's assertions today that a "balancing test" can replace the constitutional threshold with one that is more convenient for those enforcing the laws but less protective of the citizens' liberty; the Fourth Amendment's protections should not be defaced by "a balancing process that overwhelms the individual's protection against unwarranted official intrusion by a governmental interest said to justify the search and seizure." United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, supra, at 570 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting).
I thus do not accept the majority's premise that "[t]o hold that the Fourth Amendment applies to searches conducted by school authorities is only to begin the inquiry into the standards governing such searches." Ante, at 337. For me, the finding that the Fourth Amendment applies, coupled with the observation that what is at issue is a full-scale search, is the end of the inquiry. But even if I believed that a "balancing test" appropriately replaces the judgment of the Framers of the Fourth Amendment, I would nonetheless object to the cursory and shortsighted "test" that the Court employs to justify its predictable weakening of Fourth Amendment protections. In particular, the test employed by the Court vastly overstates the social costs that a probable-cause standard entails and, though it plausibly articulates the serious privacy interests at stake, inexplicably fails to accord them adequate weight in striking the balance. [469 U.S. 325, 363]
The Court begins to articulate its "balancing test" by observing that "the government's need for effective methods to deal with breaches of public order" is to be weighed on one side of the balance. Ibid. Of course, this is not correct. It is not the government's need for effective enforcement methods that should weigh in the balance, for ordinary Fourth Amendment standards - including probable cause - may well permit methods for maintaining the public order that are perfectly effective. If that were the case, the governmental interest in having effective standards would carry no weight at all as a justification for departing from the probable-cause standard. Rather, it is the costs of applying probable cause as opposed to applying some lesser standard that should be weighed on the government's side. 5
In order to tote up the costs of applying the probable-cause standard, it is thus necessary first to take into account the nature and content of that standard, and the likelihood that it would hamper achievement of the goal - vital not just to "teachers and administrators," see ante, at 339 - of maintaining an effective educational setting in the public schools. The seminal statement concerning the nature of the probable-cause standard is found in Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925). Carroll held that law enforcement authorities have probable cause to search where "the facts and circumstances within their knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information [are] sufficient in themselves to [469 U.S. 325, 364] warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief" that a criminal offense had occurred. Id., at 162. In Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160 (1949), the Court amplified this requirement, holding that probable cause depends upon "the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act." Id., at 175.
Two Terms ago, in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), this Court expounded at some length its view of the probable-cause standard. Among the adjectives used to describe the standard were "practical," "fluid," "flexible," "easily applied," and "nontechnical." See id., at 232, 236, 239. The probable-cause standard was to be seen as a "common-sense" test whose application depended on an evaluation of the "totality of the circumstances." Id., at 238.
Ignoring what Gates took such great pains to emphasize, the Court today holds that a new "reasonableness" standard is appropriate because it "will spare teachers and school administrators the necessity of schooling themselves in the niceties of probable cause and permit them to regulate their conduct according to the dictates of reason and common sense." Ante, at 343. I had never thought that our pre-Gates understanding of probable cause defied either reason or common sense. But after Gates, I would have thought that there could be no doubt that this "nontechnical," "practical," and "easily applied" concept was eminently serviceable in a context like a school, where teachers require the flexibility to respond quickly and decisively to emergencies.
A consideration of the likely operation of the probable-cause standard reinforces this conclusion. Discussing the issue of school searches, Professor LaFave has noted that the cases that have reached the appellate courts "strongly suggest that in most instances the evidence of wrongdoing prompting teachers or principals to conduct searches is sufficiently detailed and specific to meet the traditional probable cause test." 3 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure 10.11, [469 U.S. 325, 365] pp. 459-460 (1978). 6 The problems that have caused this Court difficulty in interpreting the probable-cause standard have largely involved informants, see, e. g., Illinois v. Gates, supra; Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410 (1969); Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108
In New Jersey v. T.L.O., the U.S. Supreme Court set forth the principles governing searches by public school authorities.
In the 1760s, the British government turned its back on the ancient concept of reasonable search and seizure when it authorized writs of assistance, which allowed a British agent to authorize any that home, shop, or place of business be searched. Writs of assistance were issued so agents could search for smuggled goods on which customs duty had not been paid. Agents were issued these writs without any reasonable grounds to believe that a building held smuggled goods. The writs did not state what was being searched for, did not name the persons involved, and were valid for indefinite periods of time. These writs helped spark the flame of the American Revolution and made it so that at the 1787 and 1788 ratifying conventions, the Fourth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution.
The Fourth Amendment states that people can expect to be protected "in their persons, houses, papers and effects" from "unreasonable searches and seizures." Unfortunately the concept of "unreasonable" is unclear and at the heart of many Supreme Court search and seizure cases. However, four elements need to be established in a search and seizure question: what the meaning of probable cause is; what a search or a seizure is; what circumstances dictate the need for a search warrant; and finally, what legal ramifications of a search or seizure makes them unconstitutional. Many of these questions arose in the case of New Jersey v. T.L.O.
A New Jersey high school teacher entered a restroom to find a 14-year old freshman smoking a cigarette which violated the school's rules. The teacher took the student to the principal's office. An assistant vice principal questioned the student about her behavior. The freshman denied that she was smoking in the restroom and asserted that she did not smoke cigarettes at all.
The assistant vice principal demanded the student's purse and opened it to find an open pack of cigarettes. When the assistant vice principal took the cigarettes out of the purse, there was a pack of rolling papers, such as one might use with marijuana. The assistant vice principal then searched the purse very thoroughly to find such things as a small quantity of marijuana, a marijuana pipe, a quantity of plastic bags, a large amount of $1 bills, a list of students who owed her money and two letters which left no doubt that she was dealing marijuana.
In delinquency proceedings against the student, a New Jersey juvenile court allowed the evidence to be admitted. The juvenile court ruled that a school official had the right to search a student if the official suspects reasonably that the student has committed a crime, is committing a crime, or is about to commit a crime. Furthermore, a school official can search a student if there is a reasonable cause to believe that the search is crucial to maintain school discipline or to enforce school policy. In this case, said the juvenile court, these standards dictated that this was a reasonable search.
The court ruled that the student was a delinquent, sentencing her to a year's probation. The appellate court affirmed the juvenile court's ruling that the student's Fourth Amendment rights had not been violated, but annulled the delinquency ruling. The appellate court returned the case to determine whether the student had waived her Fifth Amendment rights willingly and voluntarily before she confessed.
The student appealed the Fourth Amendment ruling to the Supreme Court of New Jersey which reversed the appellate division's judgment, and ordered that the evidence in the purse be suppressed because the search was not reasonable.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case on certiorari and reversed the ruling of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Justice White wrote an opinion with which Powell, Rehnquist, O'Connor and Burger agreed. Justices Brennan, Marshall and Stevens joined the opinion, but only partially.
The concurring justices all decided that the Fourth Amendment's unreasonable search and seizure prohibition applies to searches made by public school officials. Further rulings were that school officials did not need to get a warrant before searching a student under their authority and that school officials do not need to follow the search requirement of probable cause to presume that a student is violating, has violated, or will violate the law. Whether a student search is legal depends on the reasonableness of the search in accordance with the circumstances surrounding the search. Finally, this particular search was not unreasonable relative to the Fourth Amendment.