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Name: In re Sean A.
Case #: D056026
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 12/22/2010

Searches of students in public schools conducted pursuant to a school policy are special needs administrative searches that do not require individualized suspicion. Appellant’s school had a written policy advising that students who returned to campus after being out of certain boundaries were subject to search. Appellant was seen leaving school. Upon his return he was ordered to the assistant principal’s office and told to empty his pockets. They contained drugs. The juvenile court denied appellant’s motion to suppress, finding the school’s policy of searching students was permissible under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. On appeal, appellant argued the evidence obtained as a result of the search based solely on the fact that he left the campus should have been suppressed. The majority held the search was lawful. The Fourth Amendment is not strictly applied in public schools due to the societal interest in safe schools, and so all that is required to uphold a search is reasonable suspicion by school administrators. The majority cited In re Latasha W. (1998) 60 Cal.App.4th 1524, for the proposition that the school-search cases are part of a body of law allowing “special needs” administrative searches without individualized suspicion. Since the search at issue here was conducted per an established policy of which the student had notice and because it was limited in nature, it was lawful. The dissent would have reversed, finding that under New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985) 469 U.S. 325, this was an individualized search which needed to be supported by reasonable suspicion. The dissent noted U.S. Supreme Court authority only allows suspicion-less searches in schools in the context of drug-testing programs.