A teacher caught Michelle smoking in a high school bathroom and brought Michelle to the principal’s office. Michelle told Mr. Jones, the assistant principal, that she had not been smoking in the bathroom and that she did not smoke. Mr. Jones demanded to see Michelle’s purse and when he opened it, he found a pack of cigarettes. As Mr. Jones took the pack of cigarettes out of Michelle’s purse, he found rolling papers. Mr. Jones then thoroughly searched Michelle’s purse and found a little bit of marijuana, a pipe, a number of empty plastic bags, a substantial quantity of one-dollar bills, a list of students who owed Michelle money, and two letters that implicated Michelle in selling marijuana.
What amendment is at issue here? [4th Amendment again]
What do you think the United States Supreme Court held in this case? [The Court held that this search did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The Court ruled that school officials do not need to obtain a warrant before searching a student who is under their authority. The Court held that a search does not need to be based on probable cause; instead, “the legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search.”]
What does “the reasonableness, under all the circumstances” mean? [It means that to see if a search is justified, one must first look at whether the action was justified when it started and then at whether the search is related in scope to the reason for the search. Generally, in a school, the search will be justified when it began if a teacher or school official has reason to believe that a student is violating the law or a school rule. Such search will be related in scope when the measures used are reasonable related to the reason for the search and are not excessively intrusive in light of the student’s age and gender and the nature of the infraction.]
How is this different from or similar to the backpack case? [It is the same because the Fourth Amendment still applies; the Fourth Amendment protects against warrantless searches conducted by any government actor. But, the search in the school is different because it requires less information before a search is allowed.]