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Can Florida police search school lockers without a warrant?

On Behalf of | Jan 5, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

The Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from conducting “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Law enforcement cannot search your property without first getting a search warrant from a judge.

However, there are several exceptions to the search warrant requirement. One of them applies to minors in school. Simply put, police and school authorities often do not need a warrant to search your child’s locker, backpack, purse or other private property on school grounds.

Supreme Court: schools have greater power to conduct warrantless searches

A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1985, New Jersey v. T.L.O., lays out the limitations on students’ Constitutional rights. The Court found that, in a school setting, a search conducted by a school official, such as the principal, is “reasonable” when that official has a reasonable suspicion that the search will uncover evidence of a crime — as long as the official is not acting on a police request or order. This is a lower standard than the “probable cause” standard that law enforcement must adhere to in most situations. Thus, juveniles in school have less of a right to privacy, which the Court justified as necessary for school administrators’ task to “maintain order in the schools.”

For a “reasonable” warrantless search to overcome the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, it must meet two requirements:

  • The search must have been “justified at its inception.”
  • The search must have been “reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.”

In addition, lower courts across the country have ruled several times that police officers can participate in warrantless searches of a student’s property as long as the officer is working at the direction of school leadership, not the other way around. Courts tend to view this arrangement as prudent, especially when the student is suspected of possessing a weapon.

Juveniles still have rights in Florida

Just because your teenager’s civil rights are reduced when they are in school, it does not mean they disappear completely. An experienced defense attorney can explain your child’s rights to them, review the charges and decide how to proceed.