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Your rights and dorm room searches

During college years, students get their first taste of adult freedoms. While college is meant to be a time of personal exploration and growth, it can lead to very adult consequences for those violating university and criminal laws.

Campus living and privacy rights

College students living in campus housing face a unique lack of privacy rights. Since the dorms and other student housing are owned by the school, your privacy rights are greatly diminished as compared to those in a private residence. School officials, such as a resident advisor or campus police, can enter your dorm without your permission to perform a search.

Your dorm rental agreement should spell out when and why campus officials may enter your room, but most agreements state that random inspections and searches are standard campus policy. In most cases, school officials can enter the room to perform a visual inspection, but they are not allowed to search your closets or drawers unless that was listed in the rental agreement.

Police searches

Dorm searches are frequently performed by school staff members, but police can search your room as well. Typically, police will ask permission to enter your dorm room. You have the right to refuse the search and entry. However, if the police see contraband items in plain view they can enter the room based on probable cause. Police can also enter your dorm if they have a warrant, but refusing entry does not give them a valid reason for a search warrant.

While your instinct will compel you into blind cooperation, do not consent to the search. You are protected against unreasonable searches and seizure by the Fourth Amendment. If you are asked questions, politely decline to answer to avoid risking self incrimination. Voluntary cooperation could mean the difference between university discipline and criminal charges, so do not build a case against yourself. Do not be tempted by promises of leniency for cooperation as it is not a guarantee of a lesser punishment.

Possible consequences

While you can refuse to let police enter your dorm room, any contraband substances gathered by campus officials can still be used to hold you in violation of the campus housing agreement. In addition to facing criminal charges, students also face university disciplinary action. Such actions can include suspension or expulsion, loss of campus housing and disciplinary probation. Also, academic disciplinary actions jeopardize scholarships and financial aid awards.

If your dorm room was searched, it is important to understand the possible consequences resulting from the search. Knowing the consequences and possible evidence used against you can help you build your defense. Don't let a simple dorm room search send your future off course.

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