Federal laws protect everyone from illegal search and seizure. However, many people, especially young college students, do not know about those rights and may unknowingly be the victims of unlawful drug searches.
Being familiar with these common college search scenarios might inform students how to respond in similar situations.
While college students do not own their dorm room, the right to privacy extends to this living space. Police must have a warrant to enter and legally search the premises. Without a warrant, students can deny the police access to the room. The only time police officers can search a room without a warrant is:
- After an official arrest
- If the student gives them permission
- When evidence is in plain view
Even if students feel they have nothing to hide, refusing entry until police have a warrant protects the students’ fourth amendment rights.
Computer bags, purses and backpacks are just some of the small personal items students carry around campus. While police may stop and request that students submit to a search of their belongings, students can say no. However, if law enforcement officers reasonably suspect law violations, they are legally allowed to search personal belongings.
If college students get pulled over for a traffic violation, police can request to search the vehicle for drugs. While officers have the legal right to search a car when they have probable cause of drugs, they can not demand to search on a whim or in hopes of finding drugs.
All college students should understand their rights to privacy to avoid unreasonable searches. If police illegally collect evidence of drug use or distribution, the evidence may not be admissible in court.