State v. Best

In May 2009, the ACLU-NJ filed an amicus brief with the New Jersey Supreme Court on the question of what standard of suspicion is required before a school administrator can search a student's car that is parked in a school lot. In this case, the school administrator in Atlantic County found illegal pills on the student and secured the student in his office. The administrator also had possession of the student's car keys because students who parked at the school were required to turn them over to the school at the beginning of the school day. The State argues that the school administrator merely needs "reasonable suspicion" that there is evidence of a school violation in the car. Best argues that the normal "probable cause" standard is required. The ACLU-NJ amicus brief sets forth that probable cause would be required unless there is a potential for immediate danger to students (akin to exigent circumstances for police). The ACLU-NJ brief also points out that (1) because the car is left in the lot and not directly and immediately accessible by the students, it is unlike lockers which can be searched by administrators and (2) students have an expectation of privacy in their cars because they often store personal non-school-related items (e.g., receipts for personal items and items that could identify where the student works, what organizations he belongs to, what activities he engages in after school, etc.). On February 3, 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that school officials can search a car parked on school grounds if they have "reasonable suspicion" that evidence of a school violation exists. The ACLU-NJ had argued that "probable cause" should be required or, at the very least, that there is a potential for immediate danger to students (akin to exigent circumstances for police). In the circumstances of this case, the school administrator had found illegal pills on the student, had the student secured in his office and had the keys to the car (which students who parked at the school were required to turn over to the school at the beginning of the school day).

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