New Jersey v. TLO (1985) | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

New Jersey v. TLO (1985) is a landmark SCOTUS decision in which the Court ruled that school officials do not need a warrant to search students under their supervision.

Let’s dive deep into New Jersey v. TLO, a landmark Supreme Court case that happened in 1985. The case revolved around a high school student, referred to as T.L.O., who was found with illegal items in her purse. The principal had searched her purse after suspecting she was breaking school rules by smoking in the bathroom.

T.L.O. argued that the search violated her Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. She believed that the principal needed a warrant, a document given by a judge, to search her purse legally.

What the Supreme Court Decided

The Supreme Court disagreed with T.L.O. They ruled that school officials do not need a warrant to search students. The Court argued that the need to maintain safety and order in schools justified this exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.

The Court also stated that the standard for searching students is “reasonable suspicion,” a lower standard than the “probable cause” required for a warrant. This means that school officials can search a student if they have good reason to believe the student broke a school rule or law.

The Impact of New Jersey v. TLO

The decision in New Jersey v. TLO has had a big impact on schools and students. It gives school officials the authority to search students without a warrant as long as the search is reasonable.

This ruling aims to balance two important things: the need for safe, disciplined schools and the privacy rights of students. Some people agree with the decision, believing that school officials need this power to keep schools safe. But others argue that it goes too far and infringes on students’ rights.

Understanding the Debate

The debate over the New Jersey v. TLO decision continues today. Some critics believe that the ruling gives school officials too much power and could lead to abuses. Supporters, on the other hand, believe the ruling is necessary for maintaining safe and orderly schools.

The discussion around this case highlights a larger question: How do we balance individual rights with the need for safety and order? This question is central to many discussions in the field of criminal justice.


All in all, New Jersey v. TLO is a significant case in the field of criminal justice. It’s a key example of how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution in different contexts – in this case, within the walls of a school. This decision has shaped the way schools operate, affecting students and educators across the country. It’s a case that brings important conversations about privacy, safety, and the role of school officials to the forefront.

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Last Modified: 06/30/2023


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