College students and dormitory residents have some constitutional protections. But there are some exceptions which can have legal consequences and also jeopardize your ability to stay in college housing or even continue as a student at that college.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment, with some exceptions, requires that law enforcement obtain a warrant before engaging in the search or seizure of property. They must show probable cause before obtaining a search or arrest warrant.
Seeking to suppress evidence from an unreasonable illegal search or seizure is usually part of criminal defense. Police search and seizure is unreasonable if it is conducted without a search warrant and without probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime.
College students living in public university dormitories have a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. Officials must have a valid search warrant before searching these rooms for law enforcement purposes.
The Fourth Amendment may sometimes protect students from arrest. But there may be consequences for students for violating university rules or a housing agreement such as eviction or expulsion from college.
Generally, police may not enter a dorm room without consent or a search warrant except for exceptions such as emergencies or hot pursuit of a suspect. Police must release you or detain you and obtain a warrant if they perform a search without your consent.
Colleges and resident assistants
Remember when you place a towel under the dorm to hide marijuana smoke that college and dormitory staff have more authority to enter and search your dorm room.
Dorm rental agreements usually set forth when and why campus police and dorm staff such as resident assistants may enter your room. Most agreements permit random inspections and searches. A dorm room search is usually permissible if a student is arrested in their dorm room.
RAs may observe anything in plain view and in open drawers and closets. Many times, they can make unannounced entries and searches. Containers are often searched without explicit consent during announced safety inspections and during every semester or year closing.
The Fourth Amendment also limits seizure or confiscation of personal property. But most colleges have policies allowing the seizure of student property such as cell phones.
Searching students on campuses
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that many types of random searches of students on campus property are permissible even if there are no elevated or national security risks. But more evidence will be needed to justify a more intrusive search.
College arrests can have legal consequences and impact your ability to remain on campus or in its housing. Attorneys can help assure that your rights are protected.