We have a local school which has hired a company to bring in drug-detecting dogs to check the cars parked in the school’s parking lot while school is in session. They are hoping to stop kids from dealing or buying drugs on campus and believe that if a juvenile was arrested on campus that it would send a strong message to the rest of the student body. Their proposal: if the dog “hits” on a vehicle, the school officials will pull the driver of the vehicle out of class, inform them of what happened, order the juvenile to open the vehicle and conduct a search of the vehicle. If drugs are found, they will call the police and let the police officer investigate and decide whether to arrest. The police department has asked us to weigh in on whether this procedure is constitutionally permissible, seeing as the police have no information on the reliability of the dogs.
I believe that the search is permissible because it is reasonable under New Jersey v. TLO: the search is reasonable at its inception so long as the drug dogs are shown to have a reliable track record in detecting drugs, and the search is reasonable in its scope/duration/intensity so long as the school officials are only looking in the vehicle in places where drugs could possibly be found. I believe it is safer to go ahead and search on these grounds and not ask for consent to avoid any potential coercion arguments. I believe that the police department’s lack of knowledge about the dogs’ reliability doesn’t matter so long as the school officials trust the dogs, since school officials are completing the search long before the police are ever involved.
I recognize that proving possession is going to be an issue in these cases, but putting that issue aside, do you think these types of searches would pass constitutional muster?
When the school allows the students to park on school property - presumably with a school parking permit - part of that agreement should be a warning in writing that the student's car is subject to being searched when it is parked on school property. When they are warned that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy then the searches of the vehicles are subject to the same type of exception that applies in school searches of lockers and desks. If they are warned then it should prevent them from arguing later that they had a right to privacy in their vehicle and any evidence should be inadmissable.