In Florida, Police on School Grounds Have Much Greater Authority to Search Students

Normally in Florida, the police cannot search a person or his/her vehicle, home or other belongings without probable cause and a search warrant or consent to search. Students in school do not enjoy those same protections from searches and seizures by police or school officials.

In a recent gun case in Jacksonville, Florida, a school received an anonymous tip that a student at the school had carried a gun on school grounds three months earlier. When school officials learned of the anonymous tip, the school resource officer and security guard took the student to the security office where he was searched. A gun was found on the student. The student was charged with carrying a gun on school grounds.

Outside of the school context, this search would never be legal. First, an anonymous tip that is not corroborated by specific observations is not sufficient to search someone without permission. Additionally, a tip that someone was carrying a gun three months earlier would be considered stale and, even if reliable, would not be sufficient probable cause to search someone three months after the alleged criminal conduct occurred.

However, the Florida courts recognize that the school context is different. Rather than using the normal probable cause standard for searches, the courts will uphold a search by school officials if it is determined to be reasonable. Because of the great potential for danger to children at schools, along with the well-publicized shooting incidents we have seen, the judges give school officials a lot of leeway when determining whether a search was reasonable under the circumstances.

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