Here in the United States, we are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution. It limits the reach of law enforcement to invade our homes, cars and personal space when conducting searches for contraband.
But how does this affect those living in communal settings in college dorms? Because students are technically residing in property owned by the university, authorities and campus cops can have a bit more latitude when conducting searches.
Most dorms have housing agreements that students (or their parents, in cases of minors) signed to permit them to move into campus housing. These agreements typically provide fewer protections against invasion of privacy than most leases or rental agreements for off-campus housing. In fact, most universities include clauses for random inspections.
This does not give police or school officials carte blanche to invade students’ privacy indiscriminately, however. They still must abide by university policies when conducting searches and seizures in a dorm room.
If you are in the position where campus police or other authorities are demanding to search your dorm room or possessions, you may politely refuse to consent. While this does not guarantee that they will simply give up and go away, your refusal can form the basis of a later defense to any forthcoming criminal charges that the search was improperly done, and therefore any evidence should not be admissible.
No matter where you are when law enforcement demand to search your person or belongings, it is always wise to refuse to incriminate yourself. Remain calm and respectful but request to speak to your criminal defense attorney before answering questions.
Source: Flex Your Rights, “What Are My Rights in a College Dorm?,” accessed July 22, 2016