Is Breathalyzing Students At Prom Constitutional?

The Meriden Record Journal recently published a story about the Town of Southington’s decision to require all students attending dances and other major school functions to submit to a breathalyzer test as a condition of attendance.  Is this legal/constitutional?

The short answer is almost certainly yes.

In a series of cases concerning the Fourth Amendment implications of drug testing of students in public schools, the United States Supreme Court has held that suspicionless drug testing of student athletes, as well as students engaged in other types of extra-curricular activities, is “reasonable” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.  In essence, the Supreme Court has said that given the pervasive problem of drugs in schools, it is reasonable for schools to test students for drugs as a condition of participating in certain activities, even if the school has no factual basis to believe that a particular student subject to testing is using drugs.  If a student does not want to submit to drug testing, he/she does not have to participate in the activities.

As applied to the policy of administering a breathalyzer test to students who want to attend their high school prom, where drinking is often a problem, the Supreme Court’s drug testing cases strongly suggest the breathalyzer policy is legal.  (Click here for a short paper discussing this specific issue.)

[For the record, I am generally opposed to suspicionless drug testing of students.  I think the Fourth Amendment should be interpreted to require some degree of individualized suspicion.  But a majority of the Supreme Court thinks otherwise.]


3 Comments on “Is Breathalyzing Students At Prom Constitutional?”

  1. Ron Gold says:

    Dan, I agree with you.

  2. Mario Cerame says:

    Well put Dan. I’d add that I believe that the school does need, however, a factual basis for the special needs search, even if not particularized to the individual. So–unless there’s a special reason, random breathalyzer tests in the morning when students come inside is probably not kosher. But if there’s evidence of a history of violence in the school, particularly with weapons, then metal detectors in the morning may be kosher.

    Alcohol related fatalities around school dances, even in other districts, would probably be a sufficient basis to further the compelling interest of protecting students.

    There’s also a difference between requiring students consent to a search as a predicate to engaging in an optional activity and requiring students consent to a search to engage in required activities, like regular attendance. If consent there is no search, so we don’t even get to the 4A.

  3. comish4lif says:

    Can anyone point a link to the specific Supreme Court case mentioned?


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