Can law enforcement officers search a juvenile or their property?

Our research found that the police can legally search and minor and their property. Generally, law enforcement officers must provide juveniles with the same Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections as adults, and they must also conduct the search with a warrant. However, exceptions to the warrant requirement can be made for the cop to search a minor or their property on a school campus because the state wants to protect students, school employees, and school structures. If you need more information, use the tool below to seek reliable legal help.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 18, 2020

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Law enforcement officers may conduct a police search of a juvenile and their property. Generally, law enforcement officers must provide juveniles with the same Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections as adults; a law enforcement officer’s search must be reasonable. The police search must also be conducted with a warrant.

However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement for a police search that differ by state. Exceptions may involve an emergency, such as a juvenile who is posing an immediate danger to another person. Exceptions may also involve an arrest, such as a juvenile who is found driving while intoxicated; in which case, if the juvenile is arrested, a law enforcement officer has the right to search the juvenile’s vehicle as a search incident to arrest.

States have different views about search requirements if a juvenile or their property is physically located on a school campus. Specifically, states do not agree on whether law enforcement officers need to base the on-campus search on probable cause or reasonable suspicion. A state may provide a law enforcement officer with more leeway to search a juvenile or their property on a school campus because the state wants to protect students, school employees, and school structures. How the state views the circumstances of a particular search depends on the facts of the case.

Generally, if a police officer acts without being asked to search by a school employee, they must demonstrate that they have probable cause. There may be an exception if the law enforcement officer is stationed at the school as a school resource officer. In this situation, the law enforcement officer may only need reasonable suspicion. The state may see the police officer for limited purposes as a school employee. If law enforcement officers have a direction to search from a school employee, they may only need reasonable suspicion. The “reasonable suspicion” standard is lower than the “probable cause” standard.

A law enforcement official can search a juvenile or their property on a school campus for an offense that is alleged to have occurred off campus at any time. A school employee, such as a school security guard, does not need a warrant to search a juvenile or their property. Schools have their own rules regarding the requirements for a search. These are different from the rules for law enforcement officers.

If a juvenile or their property is not physically located on a school campus, a law enforcement officer must demonstrate that there is probable cause to conduct a police search of the juvenile or their property.

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