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    Speak Up! - View Question #632

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    Question: Is it legal for a High school officer to search your car without permission?

    Answer: The short answer is 'Yes, the officer can search without permission.'

    However, it all depends on the circumstances of the case.

    First of all, any Search and Seizure should be 'reasonable' according to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment is where your Rights against 'unreasonable' Search and Seizure are found. There is case law regarding searches in the school environment and those rulings are more lenient for Officers to search than other situations. Here are some possibilities.

    Before an Officer can search your car, he needs 'probable cause'. For this situation, Probable Cause for searching a car is 'Facts and/or circumstances that would lead a reasonable police officer to believe there is contraband (illegal stuff) in the car.'


    The Police Officer receives information that a student has Marijuana in his car in the school parking lot.

    a) The officer goes to that car, but sees nothing to support the
    information he was given--the officer does NOT have Probable Cause and CANNOT search.

    b) But if the Officer goes to that car and sees what appears to be
    Marijuana or Marijuana cigarettes or drug paraphernalia in the car. He now has Probable Cause to search the car.

    c) OR, the officer goes to that car and smells the odor of Marijuana
    from the car. Again, the Officer now has Probable Cause to search the car.

    In the school environment, the rules are a little more easy for the School Staff and Officers. School Staff only needs 'Reasonable Suspicion' to search a car. 'Reasonable Suspicion' can be considered as information that leads to a 'reasonable' belief that contraband is in the car. If the information is from School staff, or involves weapons/school safety, the Officer only needs 'reasonable suspicion' to search. That 'reasonable suspicion' can be from the School Staff. If only the Officer's information is involved with the search, the standard is still Probable Cause


    School Staff receives information that there is Marijuana in a student's car in the lot. Because of the source, or the method of the information coming to the staff, the School staff thinks the information is believable, or reasonable. The School staff contacts the Officer with their beliefs.

    a) The officer goes to the car in the lot and looks in, but does not see
    anything to support the information. The Officer CAN search because the source of his information is School Staff and Staff believes their information.

    b) If the Officer goes to the car and sees contraband in the car, he now
    has Probable Cause, which is more than 'reasonable suspicion', and CAN search the car.


    Either the officer or school staff receives believable information that a weapon might be in a student's car. The Officer CAN search the car with no more than this 'reasonable suspicion'.

    1 thru 5 of 9 comments    [ 1 ]  2    
    On 06/17/04
    Beth from NH said:
    Here in Newhampsire, police basicly get sued for not saything their rights to people and for illegaly searching them or their possesions.
    On 06/17/04
    Ashley from NJ said:
    Police can search cars and lockers without a warrant if they have probable cause. This may be something suspicious around or near the area at hand or a claim from others that there is something illegal in the car or locker. The warrant only gurrantees the officer that he/she will not be in trouble later for breaking the fourth amendment rights of the owner. It isn't necessary because by the time the officer gets the warrant, it may be too late to get the illegal objects at hand.
    On 06/11/04
    Alex from TX said:
    They have no right. It is wrong for them to be able to search cars, lockers whatever. In my opinion, the school is responsible for providing an education, and that's where their responsibilities end. Our rights shouldn't be any different at school than at any other public place.
    On 05/09/04
    Derek from MI said:
    Here in Michigan the police can search anyone whenever they feel like it. They just say they had "reasonable cause" to suspect a person of committing a crime and that's good enough for the courts. They search cars in the parking lot whenever it is convenient for them.Lockers are also searched. Our local Principal (Mr. Hansen) even went so far as to to lie to the students and say there was an "intruder" in the school to justify the "lockdown" when they brought in the dogs. This seemed to be fine with our locals, as they used the "if you don't have anything to hide..." argument!
    On 05/04/04
    Steve from MD said:
    You all need to check your spelling. In short, school administrators can search any part of the school (lockers, etc.). They can search you if there is another adult present. They can search your car upon reasonable suspicion. So, the easy answer to not getting in trouble at school is don't bring guns, knives, or drugs to school and don't advocate dangerous things. Just blend in and graduate as soon as you are able.
    1 thru 5 of 9 comments    [ 1 ]  2    

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