As a citizen in America, we are born with certain unalienable rights. Thanks to the hard work of many forefathers, American citizens are guaranteed freedoms through the constitution, the bill of rights and the many amendments that followed.
However, as much of the documents and protections were written by people who lived in entirely different timeframes and lifestyles who very well understood the way time can cause change, America’s forefathers set in place a system to review and improve laws as needed: the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here we will take a look at the 4th Amendment, how it applies to the citizenry, and how the U.S. Supreme Court impacts how we view our rights and protections.
First, let’s discuss what exactly the Fourth Amendment guarantees:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures….., but upon probable cause…”
Therefore citizens of America can expect their selves and their property to be protected from search and seizures, except in the case of probable cause and supporting evidence. Now let’s look at the case of New Jersey v. T.L.O (1985).
In New Jersey, 1983, two students were caught smoking in the school bathroom by a teacher who brought the issue forward to the school principal. After being questioned by the administration, one student confessed and the other, now known as T.L.O., denied the allegations. The principal then accused T.L.O. of lying and searched her purse, finding cigarettes, rolling papers, and more. The administrator then proceeded to call the police.
Due to her age of just 14 years, the charges against her were filed through Juvenile Court. Although her lawyer argued that searching her purse and using the evidence within was a violation of her 4th Amendment rights, T.L.O. was found guilty and sentenced to probation for one year. After their appeal process, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
After hearing the argument on both March 28th and October 2 of 1984, the Supreme Court decided its ruling January 15th, 1985. They found that students do have 4th Amendment rights at school, but these rights must be balanced by the school’s inherent responsibility to provide a safe and educational environment. They further added that though students do have 4th Amendment rights, school officials do not need to have a warrant or probable cause to search and seize student property; instead, they need only reasonable suspicion. Therefore, the U.S. Supreme Court Justices upheld the ruling of the lower courts in the case of T.L.O.