Its Back to School! What parents need to know about police searches and their children’s constitutional rights on school grounds in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Our criminal defense law firm represents students charged with different crimes and offenses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. While many of these cases are minor compared to many of our adult cases, they are nevertheless important, especially to the parents of these students.
A criminal charge and a possible adjudication can stay with a young adult long into their adult years and sometimes even a lifetime. There are many cases where a felony or even a misdemeanor conviction will not allow a minor to ever purchase a gun or firearm, enter the military, be eligible for certain government programs and educational opportunities. Many of our cases involve the illegal possession of drugs and firearms and typically, these cases occur after a search on school grounds reveals these illegal items.
Probable Cause & School Searches – Involving Police or Law Enforcement
It is important to understand that students do have constitutional rights, those rights, however, are relaxed while students are on school grounds and even at some school functions such as Prom.
The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution protects all citizens from illegal search and seizures but school environments are different, and students fall into a unique category. Normally, searches require that law enforcement (police) establish probable cause which is the reasonable belief that a crime is occurring or has occurred in the area searched. Probable cause is also the standard used to arrest an individual for a crime. As I have written in previous articles, police almost always need a search warrant to search a person’s home or place of business unless they can establish exigent circumstances. While the searches of vehicles are also permissible in Pennsylvania (usually need a warrant) and New Jersey.
School Searches – School Administrators & Teachers
In a school setting, police still need probable cause, but this legal standard does not apply to school administrators (teachers, principals, dean of students, etc.). In the school environment, administrator’s only need to establish reasonable suspicion which is a lower form of probable cause. Outside of the school environment, reasonable suspicion will not allow police to search a vehicle, home, or place of business, but it does allow officers to detain suspects and perform “stop and frisk”.
While school administrators only need to establish reasonable suspicion, probable cause is required if law enforcement or government actors participate in the school search. This the major difference between the two types of searches.
2 Part Supreme Court Test For School Searches
There is a 2-part test for school searches which the Supreme Court has outlined:
- Was the search justified at its inception?
- Was the search reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the intrusion in the first place?
How should child handle a school search situation?
If your son or daughter is the subject of a search, they should not answer any questions until you arrive at the school. It is very important that they do not act disrespectful because prosecutors can later argue that they exhibited some type of consciousness of guilt through that reaction. If you are called to the school because of this issue, you should contact an attorney and explain the circumstances surrounding the search. In most situations your son or daughter will be charged as a juvenile, but never assume criminal charges are the consequences.
For more information on school searches, especially those involving illegal guns, firearms, or narcotics, contact our law firm in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ
Please click here to contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. We offer free case reviews and serve the following areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Atlantic City, Camden, Cherry Hill, Chester, Conshohocken, Doylestown, Media, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pottstown, Salem, Upper Darby, Upper Merion, Upper Providence, Vineland & Woodbury areas.