In a case captioned State v Best, the NJ Supreme Court held that school administrator my search a student’s automobile if they have reasonable suspicion to believe that the vehicle contains contraband. The usual threshold (constitutional) for searches is probable cause. In addition, warrantless searches of an automobile require a showing of exigent circumstances. This is not the case for student’s vehicles on school property. The Court reasoned that the need to maintain the safety, order and discipline on school property outweighs the traditional expectations of privacy and the protections afforded to citizens as a result.
Reasonable suspicion is not a difficult burden to meet. For example, a principle who receives information from a student that a classmate appears to be “high”, may provide the principle with enough reasonable suspicion to search that (high) student’s car. Although, additional facts may be necessary to amount reasonable suspicion to search the car.
It will be interesting to see how the case law unfolds, as more and more of these reasonable suspicion automobile searches unfold. As a NJ criminal defense lawyer and juvenile attorney, it is likely that I will be challenging these searches when ever I get the chance, and try to establish some type of workable standard .