Taking the fifth


What are the rules if a student is stopped by the police?

This is a good question, since many students will have at least one encounter with the police during their time at college. Applying to college brings new freedoms for students, however it helps if you know your rights and how to deal with the authorities upfront.

The leading cause of arrest is related to alcohol or drugs, with over 45,000 apprehensions made per year on campus. Students are the most likely age group to be involved in auto accidents from drunk driving especially around the holidays. Drunk driving arrests reach an annual high during New Year’s, explains attorney Robert Hamparyan. The first and probably most important thing to be aware of is that campus cops are real officers with the power to make arrests. Some schools employ private security firms to patrol their grounds, and these personnel may have limited powers. The type of agreement with state police and security guards on campus varies according to individual colleges and universities. Officers are likely to have full stop and search authority as well as the right to question you. Either way, it is not worth taking the risk assuming they cannot arrest you.

Private security guards do not have police uniforms. Their authority is determined by faculty policy, so it pays to be aware of it. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from search and seizure without probable cause. However, a casual patdown for weapons or contraband is usually acceptable.

The Constitution also states that you have a reasonable right to privacy wherever you are abiding. This means that campus police or security cannot usually enter your dorm or room without consent or a warrant. There may be different rules if your accommodation is on private property, so always check your rental contract and read the small print. The college may have granted campus security full rights to enter any rooms without reason.

Vehicle searches come under similar regulation; there should be a reason for the search, though it is not necessarily applied. You can refuse, but this is likely to make the situation worse. Suspicion that you are about to commit a crime or that you may be intoxicated is all an officer needs to conduct a search. You can refuse a roadside sobriety test if you get pulled over, but it is not advisable to do so. The likely outcome of playing hard ball is a trip to the station for a blood test.

According to the Supreme Court, you have a little more protection when it comes to technology and data. Mobile phones and laptops cannot be seized or searched by police or security unless there are extenuating circumstances.

The right to remain silent, or Miranda Rights, only applies when you have been placed in custody. This comes under the Fifth Amendment which protects you from making any potentially self-incriminating statements. You also have the right to have a lawyer present during questioning. A state lawyer will usually be provided, because it is unlikely that most students can afford a criminal lawyer.

Be aware that you may find yourself on the receiving end of disciplinary action from your college if you refuse to cooperate with campus officers or security staff. Finally, you have the right to go free if an officer does not place you under arrest; feel free to ask them and be on your way.

You can’t arrest me, I’m a rockstar… Sid Vicious.

Written by Jacob Maslow, founder and editor of Legal Scoops.

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