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
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
Applying this standard, the court concluded that the search conducted by Mr. Choplick was a reasonable one. The initial decision to open the purse was justified by Mr. Choplick's well-founded suspicion that T. L. O. had violated the rule forbidding smoking in the lavatory. Once the purse
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
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.
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.
These two propositions — that the Fourth Amendment applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, and that the actions of public school officials are subject to the limits placed on state action by the Fourteenth Amendment — might appear sufficient to answer the suggestion that the Fourth Amendment does not proscribe unreasonable searches by school officials. On reargument, however, the State of New Jersey has argued that the history of the Fourth Amendment indicates that the Amendment was intended to regulate only searches and seizures carried out by law enforcement officers; accordingly, although public school officials are concededly state agents for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment creates no rights enforceable against them.
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
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,
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
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
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,
We join the majority of courts that have examined this issue
This standard will, we trust, neither unduly burden the efforts of school authorities to maintain order in their 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.
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
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.
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
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
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 . . .
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
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.
In sum, although I join the Court's opinion and its holding,
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):
See also Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 213-214 (1979); United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 315-316 (1972). Only in those exceptional circumstances in which special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, make the warrant and probable-cause requirement impracticable, is a court entitled to substitute its balancing of interests for that of the Framers.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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,
As compared with the relative ease with which teachers can apply the probable-cause standard, the amorphous "reasonableness under all the circumstances" standard freshly coined by the Court today will likely spawn increased litigation and greater uncertainty among teachers and administrators. Of course, as this Court should know, an essential purpose of developing and articulating legal norms is to enable individuals to conform their conduct to those norms. A school system conscientiously attempting to obey the Fourth Amendment's dictates under a probable-cause standard could, for example, consult decisions and other legal materials and prepare a booklet expounding the rough outlines of the concept. Such a booklet could be distributed to
One further point should be taken into account when considering the desirability of replacing the constitutional probable-cause standard. The question facing the Court is not whether the probable-cause standard should be replaced by a test of "reasonableness under all the circumstances." Rather, it is whether traditional Fourth Amendment standards should recede before the Court's new standard. Thus, although the Court today paints with a broad brush and holds its undefined "reasonableness" standard applicable to all school searches, I would approach the question with considerably more reserve. I would not think it necessary to develop a single standard to govern all school searches, any more
A legitimate balancing test whose function was something more substantial than reaching a predetermined conclusion acceptable to this Court's impressions of what authority teachers need would therefore reach rather a different result than that reached by the Court today. On one side of the balance would be the costs of applying traditional Fourth Amendment standards — the "practical" and "flexible" probable-cause standard where a full-scale intrusion is sought, a lesser standard in situations where the intrusion is much less severe and the need for greater authority compelling. Whatever costs were toted up on this side would have to be discounted by the costs of applying an unprecedented and ill-defined "reasonableness under all the circumstances" test that will leave teachers and administrators uncertain as to their authority and will encourage excessive fact-based litigation.
On the other side of the balance would be the serious privacy interests of the student, interests that the Court admirably articulates in its opinion, ante, at 337-339, but which the Court's new ambiguous standard places in serious jeopardy. I have no doubt that a fair assessment of the two
Applying the constitutional probable-cause standard to the facts of this case, I would find that Mr. Choplick's search violated T. L. O.'s Fourth Amendment rights. After escorting T. L. O. into his private office, Mr. Choplick demanded to see her purse. He then opened the purse to find evidence of whether she had been smoking in the bathroom. When he opened the purse, he discovered the pack of cigarettes. At this point, his search for evidence of the smoking violation was complete.
Mr. Choplick then noticed, below the cigarettes, a pack of cigarette rolling papers. Believing that such papers were "associated," see ante, at 328, with the use of marihuana, he proceeded to conduct a detailed examination of the contents of her purse, in which he found some marihuana, a pipe, some money, an index card, and some private letters indicating that T. L. O. had sold marihuana to other students. The State sought to introduce this latter material in evidence at a criminal proceeding, and the issue before the Court is whether it should have been suppressed.
On my view of the case, we need not decide whether the initial search conducted by Mr. Choplick — the search for evidence of the smoking violation that was completed when Mr. Choplick found the pack of cigarettes — was valid. For Mr. Choplick at that point did not have probable cause to continue to rummage through T. L. O.'s purse. Mr. Choplick's suspicion of marihuana possession at this time was based solely on the presence of the package of cigarette papers. The mere presence without more of such a staple item of commerce is insufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in inferring both that T. L. O. had violated the law
In the past several Terms, this Court has produced a succession of Fourth Amendment opinions in which "balancing tests" have been applied to resolve various questions concerning the proper scope of official searches. The Court has begun to apply a "balancing test" to determine whether a particular category of searches intrudes upon expectations of privacy that merit Fourth Amendment protection. See Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 527 (1984) ("Determining whether an expectation of privacy is `legitimate' or `reasonable' necessarily entails a balancing of interests"). It applies a "balancing test" to determine whether a warrant is necessary to conduct a search. See ante, at 340; United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U. S., at 564-566. In today's opinion, it employs a "balancing test" to determine what standard should govern the constitutionality of a given category of searches. See ante, at 340-341. Should a search turn out to be unreasonable after application of all of these "balancing tests," the Court then applies an additional "balancing test" to decide whether the evidence resulting from the search must be excluded. See United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984).
All of these "balancing tests" amount to brief nods by the Court in the direction of a neutral utilitarian calculus while the Court in fact engages in an unanalyzed exercise of judicial will. Perhaps this doctrinally destructive nihilism is merely
On my view, the presence of the word "unreasonable" in the text of the Fourth Amendment does not grant a shifting majority of this Court the authority to answer all Fourth Amendment questions by consulting its momentary vision of the social good. Full-scale searches unaccompanied by probable cause violate the Fourth Amendment. I do not pretend that our traditional Fourth Amendment doctrine automatically answers all of the difficult legal questions that occasionally arise. I do contend, however, that this Court has an obligation to provide some coherent framework to resolve such questions on the basis of more than a conclusory recitation of the results of a "balancing test." The Fourth Amendment itself supplies that framework and, because the Court today fails to heed its message, I must respectfully dissent.
JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, and with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN joins as to Part I, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
Assistant Vice Principal Choplick searched T. L. O.'s purse for evidence that she was smoking in the girls' restroom. Because T. L. O.'s suspected misconduct was not illegal and did not pose a serious threat to school discipline, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that Choplick's search
The State of New Jersey sought review in this Court, first arguing that the exclusionary rule is wholly inapplicable to searches conducted by school officials, and then contending that the Fourth Amendment itself provides no protection at all to the student's privacy. The Court has accepted neither of these frontal assaults on the Fourth Amendment. It has, however, seized upon this "no smoking" case to announce "the proper standard" that should govern searches by school officials who are confronted with disciplinary problems far more severe than smoking in the restroom. Although I join Part II of the Court's opinion, I continue to believe that the Court has unnecessarily and inappropriately reached out to decide a constitutional question. See 468 U.S. 1214 (1984) (STEVENS, J., dissenting from reargument order). More importantly, I fear that the concerns that motivated the Court's activism have produced a holding that will permit school administrators to search students suspected of violating only the most trivial school regulations and guidelines for behavior.
The question the Court decides today — whether Mr. Choplick's search of T. L. O.'s purse violated the Fourth Amendment — was not raised by the State's petition for writ of certiorari. That petition only raised one question: "Whether the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule applies to searches made by public school officials and teachers in school."
The New Jersey Supreme Court's holding on this question is plainly correct. As the state court noted, this case does not involve the use of evidence in a school disciplinary proceeding; the juvenile proceedings brought against T. L. O. involved a charge that would have been a criminal offense if committed by an adult.
Having confined the issue to the law enforcement context, the New Jersey court then reasoned that this Court's cases have made it quite clear that the exclusionary rule is equally applicable "whether the public official who illegally obtained the evidence was a municipal inspector, See v. Seattle 387 U.S. 541 ; Camara [v. Municipal Court,] 387 U.S. 523 ; a firefighter, Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 506 ; or a school administrator or law enforcement official."
When a defendant in a criminal proceeding alleges that she was the victim of an illegal search by a school administrator, the application of the exclusionary rule is a simple corollary of the principle that "all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution is, by that same authority, inadmissible in a state court." Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655 (1961). The practical basis for this principle is, in part, its deterrent effect, see id., at 656, and as a general
Justice Brandeis was both a great student and a great teacher. It was he who wrote:
Those of us who revere the flag and the ideals for which it stands believe in the power of symbols. We cannot ignore that rules of law also have a symbolic power that may vastly exceed their utility.
Schools are places where we inculcate the values essential to the meaningful exercise of rights and responsibilities by a self-governing citizenry.
Thus, the simple and correct answer to the question presented by the State's petition for certiorari would have required affirmance of a state court's judgment suppressing evidence. That result would have been dramatically out of character for a Court that not only grants prosecutors relief from suppression orders with distressing regularity,
The search of a young woman's purse by a school administrator is a serious invasion of her legitimate expectations of privacy. A purse "is a common repository for one's personal effects and therefore is inevitably associated with the expectation of privacy." Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753, 762 (1979). Although such expectations must sometimes yield to the legitimate requirements of government, in assessing the constitutionality of a warrantless search, our decision must be guided by the language of the Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,
The "limited search for weapons" in Terry was justified by the "immediate interest of the police officer in taking steps to assure himself that the person with whom he is dealing is not armed with a weapon that could unexpectedly and fatally be used against him." 392 U. S., at 23, 25. When viewed from the institutional perspective, "the substantial need of teachers and administrators for freedom to maintain order in the schools," ante, at 341 (majority opinion), is no less acute. Violent, unlawful, or seriously disruptive conduct is fundamentally inconsistent with the principal function of teaching institutions which is to educate young people and prepare them for citizenship.
Thus, warrantless searches of students by school administrators are reasonable when undertaken for those purposes.
The majority, however, does not contend that school administrators have a compelling need to search students in
This standard is properly directed at "[t]he sole justification for the [warrantless] search."
In Welsh, police officers arrived at the scene of a traffic accident and obtained information indicating that the driver of the automobile involved was guilty of a first offense of
The logic of distinguishing between minor and serious offenses in evaluating the reasonableness of school searches is almost too clear for argument. In order to justify the serious intrusion on the persons and privacy of young people that New Jersey asks this Court to approve, the State must identify "some real immediate and serious consequences." McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451, 460 (1948) (Jackson, J., concurring, joined by Frankfurter, J.).
The "rider" to the Court's standard for evaluating the reasonableness of the initial intrusion apparently is the Court's perception that its standard is overly generous and does not, by itself, achieve a fair balance between the administrator's right to search and the student's reasonable expectations of privacy. The Court's standard for evaluating the "scope" of reasonable school searches is obviously designed to prohibit physically intrusive searches of students by persons of the opposite sex for relatively minor offenses. The Court's effort to establish a standard that is, at once, clear enough to allow searches to be upheld in nearly every case, and flexible enough to prohibit obviously unreasonable intrusions of young adults' privacy only creates uncertainty in the extent of its resolve to prohibit the latter. Moreover, the majority's application of its standard in this case — to permit a male administrator to rummage through the purse of a female high school student in order to obtain evidence that she was smoking
The Court embraces the standard applied by the New Jersey Supreme Court as equivalent to its own, and then deprecates the state court's application of the standard as reflecting "a somewhat crabbed notion of reasonableness." Ante, at 343. There is no mystery, however, in the state court's finding that the search in this case was unconstitutional; the decision below was not based on a manipulation of reasonable suspicion, but on the trivial character of the activity that promoted the official search. The New Jersey Supreme Court wrote:
The emphasized language in the state court's opinion focuses on the character of the rule infraction that is to be the object of the search.
In the view of the state court, there is a quite obvious and material difference between a search for evidence relating to violent or disruptive activity, and a search for evidence of a smoking rule violation. This distinction does not imply that a no-smoking rule is a matter of minor importance. Rather, like a rule that prohibits a student from being tardy, its occasional violation in a context that poses no threat of disrupting school order and discipline offers no reason to believe that an immediate search is necessary to avoid unlawful conduct, violence, or a serious impairment of the educational process.
A correct understanding of the New Jersey court's standard explains why that court concluded in T. L. O.'s case that "the assistant principal did not have reasonable grounds to believe that the student was concealing in her purse evidence of criminal activity or evidence of activity that would seriously interfere with school discipline or order."
Like the New Jersey Supreme Court, I would view this case differently if the Assistant Vice Principal had reason to believe T. L. O.'s purse contained evidence of criminal activity, or of an activity that would seriously disrupt school discipline. There was, however, absolutely no basis for any such assumption — not even a "hunch."
In this case, Mr. Choplick overreacted to what appeared to be nothing more than a minor infraction — a rule prohibiting smoking in the bathroom of the freshmen's and sophomores' building.
A review of the sampling of school search cases relied on by the Court demonstrates how different this case is from those
The schoolroom is the first opportunity most citizens have to experience the power of government. Through it passes every citizen and public official, from schoolteachers to
I respectfully dissent.
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 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 Wn.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.
"We do not know what class petitioner was attending when the police and dogs burst in, but the lesson the school authorities taught her that day will undoubtedly make a greater impression than the one her teacher had hoped to convey. I would grant certiorari to teach petitioner another lesson: that the Fourth Amendment protects `[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures' . . . . Schools cannot expect their students to learn the lessons of good citizenship when the school authorities themselves disregard the fundamental principles underpinning our constitutional freedoms." Doe v. Renfrow, 451 U.S. 1022, 1027-1028 (1981) (dissenting from denial of certiorari).
(i) secret societies;
(ii) students driving to school;
(iii) parking and use of parking lots during school hours;
(iv) smoking on campus;
(v) the direction of traffic in the hallways;
(vi) student presence in the hallways during class hours without a pass;
(viii) school attendance of interscholastic athletes on the day of a game, meet or match;
(ix) cafeteria use and cleanup;
(x) eating lunch off-campus; and
(xi) unauthorized absence.
See id., at 7-18; Student Handbook of South Windsor [Conn.] H. S. (1984); Fairfax County [Va.] Public Schools, Student Responsibilities and Rights (1980); Student Handbook of Chantilly [Va.] H. S. (1984).
See also Brief for National Education Association as Amicus Curiae 21 ("If a suspected violation of a rule threatens to disrupt the school or threatens to harm students, school officials should be free to search for evidence of it").
Some codes of student behavior also provide a system of graduated response by distinguishing between violent, unlawful, or seriously disruptive conduct, and conduct that will only warrant serious sanctions when the student engages in repetitive offenses. See, e. g., Parent-Student Handbook of Piscataway [N. J.] H. S. (1979), Record Doc. S-1, pp. 15-16; Student Handbook of South Windsor [Conn.] H. S. ¶ E (1984); Rules of the Board of Education of the District of Columbia, Ch. IV, §§ 431.1-.10 (1982). Indeed, at Piscataway High School a violation of smoking regulations that is "[a] student's first offense will result in assignment of up to three (3) days of after school classes concerning hazards of smoking." Record Doc. S-1, supra, at 15.
"[A]s a general rule notice and hearing should precede removal of the student from school. We agree . . . , however, that there are recurring situations in which prior notice and hearing cannot be insisted upon. Students whose presence poses a continuing danger to persons or property or an ongoing threat of disrupting the academic process may be immediately removed from school. In such cases the necessary notice and rudimentary hearing should follow as soon as practicable . . . ."
"Even if one were to conclude that urgent circumstances might justify a forced entry without a warrant, no such emergency was present in this case. . . . Whether there is reasonable necessity for a search without waiting to obtain a warrant certainly depends somewhat upon the gravity of the offense thought to be in progress as well as the hazards of the method of attempting to reach it. . . . [The defendant's] criminal operation, while a shabby swindle that the police are quite right in suppressing, was not one which endangered life or limb or the peace and good order of the community. . . ." 335 U. S., at 459-460.
"Moreover, there were not reasonable grounds to believe that the purse contained cigarettes, if they were the object of the search. No one had furnished information to that effect to the school official. He had, at best, a good hunch. No doubt good hunches would unearth much more evidence of crime on the persons of students and citizens as a whole. But more is required to sustain a search." Id., at 347, 463 A. 2d, at 942-943.
It is this portion of the New Jersey Supreme Court's reasoning — a portion that was not necessary to its holding — to which this Court makes its principal response. See ante, at 345-346.