What are the Rules for Searching a College Student’s Dorm Room?

The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that a college student’s dormitory room is entitled to the same protection against unreasonable search and seizure that is afforded to a private home for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.

However, the constitutionality of the search of a college student’s dormitory room becomes more complicated when the search is conducted by the university’s Resident Assistants, rather than the police.  The Fourth Amendment limits only official government behavior or state action; it does not regulate searches by private persons.  The mere fact that evidence found and obtained during a search by a private person is ultimately turned over to the police does not destroy the private nature of the search and render it official government action subject to exclusion from evidence at trial.  If a private person acts as the agent of the police, however, the result is different.  Police participation in the planning or implementation of a private person’s efforts to obtain evidence from a dormitory room may taint the operation sufficiently as to require the suppression of the evidence.  The test of governmental participation is whether under all the circumstances the private individual must be regarded as an agent or instrument of the state.

When a Resident Assistant searches a dormitory room and follows the university’s policies and procedures governing residence halls, which generally authorize the residence staff to inspect student rooms at any time to determine compliance with the university’s safety and hygiene policies governing residence halls, then the search and any illegal drugs or other items of contraband will be deemed to have been properly obtained.  On the contrary, if the Resident Assistants act as agents of the police in performing the search, where the police direct the Resident Assistants where and how to search and what to look for, then such search will be deemed to be invalid.

It should be noted that the state cannot condition attendance at a state college on a waiver of constitutional rights, nor can it require students to waiver their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as a condition of occupancy of a college dormitory room.

Searches of college dormitory rooms can involve a number of complicated legal issues.  Although it may initially appear that a Resident Assistant was following university policies in conducting the search, in reality the search may have been orchestrated by the police.  Because any charges resulting from the search can have a great impact on your future at the university or your future employability, it is important that you contact an experience criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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About Jon Horwitz

Jon Horwitz is an experienced criminal defense lawyer dedicated to helping people charged of a crime. He is dedicated to providing honest, straightforward advice and advocacy in order to get the best possible result for each client. Jon currently lives in Centerville with his wife and two children. He coaches basketball through the Centerville Hustle organization and is a former soccer coach. He continues to play soccer and is an avid fan of the sport.

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