Monday, May 20, 2013

Limits on Student Searches: New Trend or Exceptions to the General Rule

On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court in J.P. v. Millard Public Schools struck down a school's search of a student's car, which had turned up drug paraphernalia.  Because the car was parked off-campus (across the street from the school), the court was able to distinguish the case from various other decisions that had upheld searches of student cars that are parked on campus.

Cases striking down student searches were nearly non-existent a decade ago, and now have begun to appear with some minimal level of regularity (at least in comparison to prior years).  The U.S. Supreme Court in Safford Unified School Dist. v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364 (2009), struck down a strip search of a student.  It followed that with a non-search, but related case, JDB v. North Carolina, in which it struck down the interrogation of a student on school grounds.  Several state courts have also been willing  to find searches unconstitutional on state grounds, even if not on federal grounds.  York v. Wahkiakum Sch. Dist. No. 200, 163 Wash. 2d 297 (2008).

The recent Nebraska decision is easy enough to limit to its facts and, thus, would be relatively inconsequential.  The same could be said of many of the other cases striking down searches.  The quesion I continue to ponder is whether these cases represent examples where the courts have no choice but limit state action or whether the represent a willingness on the part of courts to gradually roll back the expansive power given to them in New Jersey v. TLO and which schools have argueably abused over the past two and a half decades.

--Derek Black

Cases, Discipline, State law developments | Permalink


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