Supreme Judicial Court (January 31, 2007)
Private school officials, unlike public school officials, are not state agents and thus are not bound by the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Three students from a private school in North Dartmouth were on a school-sponsored ski trip in the Berkshires. The students were subject to certain rules, including surrendering their keys to a chaperone each morning and not being in their room during the day without a chaperone. During the trip, a chaperone learned that the defendants had been to their room unsupervised, and decided to check on them. After a brief conversation with the chaperone, the defendants left the room. The chaperone and the school principal then conducted a thorough search of the room and the contents therein. They found, and the students were subsequently charged with, possession of alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.
The defendants filed motions to suppress evidence and statements made as a violation of their fourth amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. The District Court judge granted the defendants' motions to suppress, finding no significant difference between the rights of students in private school versus the rights of students in public school, citing New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985). In New Jersey, the US Supreme Court held that public school officials searching students' persons and effects act in a public capacity, as agents of the State, and are therefore subject to the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule. The Commonwealth filed an interlocutory appeal.
The SJC reversed the District Court's decision, citing Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830 (1982) - the protections of the constitution apply to acts of the State, not to acts of private persons or entities. A private school is not a State entity.