Supreme Court Philosophies on Search and Seizure for students
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (Kim, 2017). The courts have ruled in various cases that the ultimate goal of this provision is to protect people’s right to privacy (including electronic devices) and freedom from unreasonable intrusions by the government. Majority of students are minors who lack some of the most fundamental rights of self -determination and are subject to the control of their guardians. However, their fourth amendment rights need to be protected especially concerning computer, internet, and the phone. There are circumstances when students might need privacy, and at the same time be protected from unwarranted government search as envisaged in the Fourth Amendment (Kloster, 2012). This article examines the Supreme Court philosophies on the Fourth Amendment as it relates to schools and students in the 21st century.
The big question that arises from the fourth amendment jurisprudence is whether a search has occurred and whether the search is only limited to physical intrusion or all forms of police surveillance. The Initial Fourth Amendment case law hinged on citizen’s property rights. In determining whether a particular type of government-initiated electronic surveillance is a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, the Warren court made a ruling in Katz v. United States, 389 U. S. 347 (1967). In Katz, Government agents had intercepted the contents of a telephone conversation by attaching an electronic listening device to the outside of a public phone booth. The Court rejected the argument that a “search” can occur only when there has been a “physical intrusion” into a “constitutionally protected area,” noting that the Fourth Amendment “protects people, not places. Because the Government’s monitoring of Katz’ conversation “violated the privacy upon which he justifiably relied while using the telephone booth,” the Court held that “constituted a `search and seizure’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Katz case expanded the principle of the Fourth amendment from just protection from physical intrusion to the right to privacy.
In New Jersey v. TLO, (1985) the Burger court was to define whether the Fourth Amendment Rights would be violated if a search was conducted by a school official. A high school teacher observed two girls smoking in a lavatory. One of them was 14 year old T. L. O. and was the respondent in the case. Since smoking in the school compound was an offence, the girls were taken to the administrator, where they met with Assistant Vice Principal Theodore Choplick. After a serious questioning , T. L. O.’s companion admitted that she had committed an offence. However, T.L.O claimed that she does not smoke and denied smoking in the school compound. The court concluded that the Fourth Amendment also relates to searches carried out by school officials, and ruled that a school official may properly conduct a search of a student’s person if the official has a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is in the process of being committed or reasonable cause to believe that the search is necessary to maintain school discipline or enforce school policies. The School authorities are not required to obtain a search warrant neither do they need to have a probable cause. It is obvious that reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than the probable cause required for a police search.
In the case of Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, et al. (Drug testing students) (2002) the Rehnquist Court ruled that the ability of schools to rid their campuses of illegal drugs outweighs an individual’s right to privacy. This landmark ruling gives school authorities the right to test students who are involved in competitive extra-curricular activities for drug use, without any particular suspicion of wrongdoing. The Student Athlete Drug Policy adopted by School District 47J in the town of Vernonia, Oregon, permits random drug testing of students who participate in the District’s school athletics programs. The key issue to be addressed is the nature of the privacy interest upon which the search in question intrudes. The Fourth Amendment does not protect all forms of privacy, but just those that society recognizes as legitimate.
In United States v Jones (Use of GPS tracking technology) (2012), the U.S. Supreme Court led by John Roberts found that law enforcement personnel committed a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment rights when they physically attached a GPS devise to the vehicle of a drug suspect and used it to electronically monitor the vehicle’s movements around the clock for more than a month. The ruling raised the big question of whether a search would be considered to have taken place by mere electronic monitoring of a suspects movement. Going by the thinking of the court, attaching a tracking device on a suspect’s body would constitute a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. In Safford Unified School District v Redding (Strip searching students) (2006) the same Roberts Court held that a strip search of a middle schooler violated the Fourth Amendment where the school lacked reasons to suspect either that the drugs the girl allegedly had in her possession (Ibuprofen) presented a danger or that they were concealed in her underwear. The law enforcers received information that four prescription only 400 mg ibuprofen and a 200 mg over-the-counter naproxen had been given to a classmate by the suspect. The suspect was later found not to possess any drugs. In Riley vs California the same court made a landmark ruling by stating that the police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cellphone seized from an individual who has been arrested.
The ruling in Riley vs. California by the current Supreme court was a landmark case in the digital age. The unanimous verdict by the bench will not only affect the minor crimes but is likely to have a far-reaching effect. It is likely to have an impact on searches related to tablets, computer, and data stored on the internet. The reasoning will also be extended to searches compared to students in schools. “It is the first computer-search case, and it says we are in a new digital age. You can’t apply the old rules anymore (Orin Kerr)’’. While making his ruling,the Chief Justice was keen to observe the important role that digital gadgets play in modern life. They are, he said, “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy (Howe, 2017)”. Technology allows citizens to carry a lot of information in their hands and the same needs to be protected.
Carpenter v. United States is another interesting case before the Roberts Court. The much awaited ruling will seek to answer the question of whether the government violates the Fourth Amendment rights by accessing an individual’s historical cell phone locations records without a warrant (Howe, 2017). It is a fact that the future of surveillance law will depend on how the Supreme Court rules in the case and hence it becomes one of the most notable Fourth Amendment case that the Roberts Court has heard. What needs to be noted is that the case is not only about cell-site records. Although the facts of the case are formally about cell-site records, the big issue is all about how electronic monitoring triggers the Fourth Amendment and how the Fourth Amendment applies (Kerr, 2017). Technology use has increased recently across all industries including schools in the 21st Century. The changes necessitate the use of technology in the collection of evidence in criminal procedures. The ruling will definitely have a great impact on criminal procedures going forward. It is also going to have an effect on the contracts that communication companies sign with their clients and the manner in which citizens interact with their digital gadgets. The fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case means that changes in technology will easily be considered in case laws in the future.
Advance in technology provides increased convenience and security at the expense of privacy. Majority of the citizens including students may find the tradeoff worthwhile but will still expect the government to protect their Fourth Amendment rights. Though the public does not appreciate the privacy that comes with new technology, they may eventually reconcile themselves to this development as inevitable. The number of students in the US is big and forms a significant percentage of technology consumers. The number is only expected to rise in the future and the current laws are definitely going to affect the relationship between government officials and students.
Going forward, it is expected that there are going to be many changes in the criminal justice system as it relates to schools and students. It is expected that the law enforcers will be permitted to use of electronic surveillance technology that may not be in general public use. This will be necessitated by the widespread use of electronic gadgets and the internet. Increased use of the internet and especially social media were not there when the Fourth Amendment rights were enacted in the constitution. There is an increased use of social media among students and cases of cyberbullying are on the rise. The law enforcers will, therefore, need to be well equipped to enable them to collect evidence for use in criminal proceedings which will definitely call for a change in the provisions of Fourth Amendment rights. Over the years, the changes that have been made on the Fourth Amendment rights have revolved around the definition of what is a “search” and when a search is reasonable. It is expected that the changes will revolve around what is a fair search for example of a student’s Facebook or Twitter account.
Going to school does not mean that students lose their Fourth Amendment rights. However, their rights must be balanced with the rights of their coursemates, as well as the duty of the learning institution to provide a conducive environment and quality education. There are strict rules that government agents and school authorities must follow to search and seize evidence from students. This same principle is applied in accessing their cell phones and the internet.
Howe. A (2017), The justices return to cellphones and the Fourth Amendment: In Plain English, SCOTUSblog, www.scotusblog.com Accessed 27/10/2017.
Katz v. the United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S. Ct. 507, 19 L. Ed. 2d 576 (1967). Retrieved from https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case. Accessed 27/10/2017.
Kerr.O. (2017, June 5) Supreme Court agrees to hear ‘Carpenter v. the United States,’ the Fourth Amendment historical cell-site case. The Washington PostPost. Retrieved from www.washingtonpost.com/news
Kim, J (2017). Legal Information Institute. Cornell Law School. www.law.cornell.edu/wex/fourth_amendment Accessed 27/10/2017
Kloster, A (2012) Supreme Court Decision in ‘Jones’ and Students’ Fourth Amendment Rights. Foundation for individual rights in education. www.thefire.org/ Accessed 27/10/2017
New Jersey v. TLO, 469 U.S. 325, 105 S. Ct. 733, 83 L. Ed. 2d 720 (1985).Retrieved from https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case. Accessed 27/10/2017.
Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473, 573 U.S., 189 L. Ed. 2d 430 (2014). Retrieved from https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case. Accessed 27/10/2017.
Safford Unified School Dist. No. 1 v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364, 129 S. Ct. 2633, 174 L. Ed. 2d 354 (2009). Retrieved from https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case. Accessed 27/10/2017.