Can law enforcement officers search a juvenile or their property?

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.