NJ high court: Search of student's car was legal

February 4, 2010 2:44:56 PM PST
New Jersey schools now have a new way to fight crime on campus. The state supreme court has ruled that school officials have the right to search students' vehicles on school property. Chris Cottrell and Tom Passafaro drive to school. They park in the student lot, on school grounds. Under the court's ruling, that makes their cars fair game for school officials to search, if there's good reason to believe there's something illegal inside. No police, no warrant necessary.

"Seems like it's not their right, but I guess they can do it," Passafaro said.

The court gave schools "necessary search authority," according to Northern Valley Regional Schools superintendent Dr. Jan Furman.

"Often it's where they hide the liquor or drugs, and it may help save a child's life," Dr. Furman said.

The state supreme court upheld a lower courts decision in a 2006 Atlantic County case. A student unsuccessfully sued because teachers searched his car and found drugs after a classmate reported receiving drugs from the car's owner.

The New Jersey School Boards Association supported the courts, saying, "In this situation, the administrator was compelled to continue to look for contraband, as his responsibility is to protect the entire student body."

The Northern Valley Regional School District has no fewer than 600 seniors who drive to school. Some we spoke to understand the court's ruling, though they don't necessarily like it.

"I can see that, but the car is not their property," student Jeremy Singer said. "It's not cool."

"It makes sense, but it still seems like they'd be violating our rights," student Calvin Carizzo said.

Regardless, the power is there, so says the state supreme court. The superintendent will lay out the guidelines for the principals.