Searches of schools and prisons are often considered “administrative” and therefore do not require a warrant or probable cause to conduct a search.


State v. Jones

666 N.W.2d 142 (Iowa 2003).

The evidence was suppressed at trial.


Whether the search of a locker was unlawful.


The court considers:

  1. Nature of the privacy interest of the subject.
  2. Character of the intrusion
  3. The relationship between the school concerns and the nature of the search.

This was a lawful search. Reversed.


Several days before conducting a locker search (to encourage health and safety of students), the administration notified students that a search would be occurring and scheduled them a time to appear at the locker to display the contents. The majority of students (1400 of 1700) appeared without question and the search was conducted in their presence. For the remaining 300, the administration conducted an additional search the following day, without the students present. Upon coming across Jone’s locker (although he was not targeted initially), they opened it up and discovered a jacket with drugs inside of it. Upon discovery, they closed the locker, called the student to the locker, then questioned him about the contents. When the student tried to flee, the administration restrained him until officers could arrive.


First, there is a privacy interest in a locker because students keep many private and personal items within lockers.

Second, the character of the intrusion was limited and well performed under the search policy. Students were notified before hand and the search was conducted in their presence. In the present instance, the next best option was employed, limiting the search to only those places where uncleanliness may be discovered.

Finally, the schools concerns and the search policy align well. Purpose is to encourage health and safety, there is no need to wait for the problems to get worse before working to mitigate that risk.

Additional Notes

For a full search of personal property in a school setting, the standard is reasonable suspicion (as compared to probable cause and warrant in a regular setting). See T.L.O.

For a more invasive search of a student in a school setting, the standard is reasonable suspicion for a regular search and reasonable suspicion of either (1) dangerous situation or (2) hiding the material within clothing. See Safford School District #1 v. Redding. Probable cause and warrant under the Scherber standard is still required for a regular setting.

In re Gregory M.

627 N.E.2d 500 (N.Y. 1993).

On trial, the court determined the evidence should not be suppressed.


The search was not unlawful. Affirmed.


Student came to school but had lost his ID. As part of the school policy, students were required to leave their bag with the security officer while they obtained a new ID. When the student left his bag, he tossed it over and the officer hear a “metallic thud,” which he deemed as unusual. Then the officer felt the exterior of the bag, determined it was a gun, and conducted a full search of the contents within the Dean’s office, which revealed the gun.

We are now in delinquency court and the student wishes the evidence of the gun to be suppressed.

Additional Notes

The above case is an example of a frisk. Essentially, the standard in the school setting is “an evident suggestion” (basically no standard). Contract this to a regular search where reasonable suspicion of a weapon is required to conduct a frisk.

Isiah B. v. State

500 N.W.2d 637 (Wis. 1993).

After gunshots were heard the night before, tensions were high at the school causing a search to go out. The officer searched Isiah B.’s locker (although he wasn’t a suspected problem) and discovered a gun. Importantly, the locker was owned by the school, so there is a limited expectation of privacy. Using the factors above, the search was constitutional.

Hageman v. Goshen County School District No. 1

256 P.3d 487 (Wyo. 2011).

The policy was deemed constitutional by the trial court and Hageman appealed.


Whether the policy for random drug testing of students participating in extracurricular activities is a violation of the Wyoming Constitution.


The policy is fine, affirmed.


Upon receiving several surveys saying there was a major drug issue among students within this particular district, the district held a public forum to consider other options to deter drug use. The option adopted was that of conducting random drug tests on students within extracurricular activities.

In particular the test was to be conducted by a company who would randomize and supervise the test. The students were to retrieve the sample without observation (as other means such as turning off water and dying liquids in the room would deter tampering). Additionally, the test only focused on certain drugs and excluded testing for prescriptions the student was taking. Finally, if the student did test positive, they may be removed from the activity, but there were no academic punishments (grade, record, etc.).


Using the same factors as Jones:

First, there is a minimized privacy interest in schools and this privacy interest is even more minimized for students participating in extracurricular activities (being seen as role models for other students).

Second, the level of intrusion was minimal, even more limited than those found in drug testing conducted in other jurisdictions.

Finally, there is some rational basis for the policy and the people they chose to test. This is a fine line, but it works in favor of the district. Specifically, the district wants to get out drugs and this will get out drugs from students who are seen as role models to others. Although this is not a “tried and proved” method, it is worth the shot.

Additional Notes

Compare the above with Ferguson v. City of Charleston, 532 U.S. 67 (2001). In Ferguson, the program was disallowed because (1) the purpose was to monitor criminal activity, and (2) punishment was pretty intense.


McCoy v. State

639 So. 2d 163 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1994).

If the subject is convicted, there is no expectation of privacy, searches can happen wherever for whatever reason. If the subject has not been convicted but is in pretrial, there is an expectation of privacy which can be overcome with a security search.

Also consider Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, 566 U.S. 318 (2012), officers can conduct a strip search no matter how minor the offense and the suspicion level involved when they are booking inmates.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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