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Maryland Dorm Room Searches

If you are a student living in an on campus dorm, you may not have the same legal rights regarding searches as a normal person would. Below, a Maryland student defense lawyer discusses what you should know regarding dorm room searches and how they can occur. To learn more call and schedule a consultation today.

Legality of Dorm Room Searches

Dorm room searches are not under the same warrant requirements that searches off campus might be because the person is technically not living on their own property. They are living on university property and are potentially subject to a room search at any time.

Generally speaking, rooms are not searched by university officials unless there is some basis to search them. The basis to search a dorm room that is most common is usually when some odor of some kind of a substance is coming from the room, and typically speaking, on college campuses the odor is marijuana. Most universities have a policy that marijuana is not permitted on campus even if the state or federal law does not prohibit its use by residents in that particular jurisdiction. When there are odors like that coming from a particular room certainly there is going to be basis for officers to come in and search the room and possibly discover whatever it is that they were looking for.

Other Reasons a Dorm Room Might Be Searched

Other reasons that a dorm room might be searched are because the police have been tipped off to illegal activity or campus police have been tipped off on some illegal activity that is taking place in that particular room. That could be anything from physical acts of violence, to possession of alcohol by minors, to distribution of controlled dangerous substances to other criminal activities that are against campus policies.

When rooms are searched by campus authorities they are not subject to the same warrant requirements that local authorities or federal authorities are, and for that reason people don’t necessarily have the same defenses as to suppression issues of what is found in their dorm room as they might be if they were at home or in an apartment was searched off campus.

What Are Campus Authorities Looking For?

Campus authorities are looking for whatever the subject of that search might be. If campus authorities are tipped off that there might be drugs then that is what they will be searching for. If they are tipped of that there might be weapons then that is what they will be searching for. It varies depending on what type of investigation they are conducting.

What Sort of Charges Typically Accompany A Search?

Usually the campus charges are charges of possession of alcohol by minors, possession of some kind of controlled dangerous substance or possession of some kind of other illegal item that was not permitted on campus, such as weapon.

Types of Law Enforcement is Involved in Dorm Room Searches

State and local law enforcement can certainly be involved. It will most likely have more to do with the magnitude of a particular situation. If authorities only smell an odor of marijuana and enter the room based on that suspicion, it is likely that something like that will be handled by the campus police.
If, however, there was some sort of a lengthy investigation concerning drug distribution that is coming out of a dorm room or that investigation has a number of witnesses and great deal of money invested in it, that might be something that local authorities would have control over as opposed to state authorities because it would be an investigation of larger magnitude.

Student Rights Regarding Dorm Searches

Students have the right to remain silent in any situation. Additionally, students have the right to ask for an attorney in any situation. But on the whole, the biggest difference between on campus in a dorm versus off campus in a home or in some other residential place that is not controlled by the university is your right to privacy.

Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution people have an absolute right to not be subject to any unlawful searches or seizures or any warrantless searches or seizures. That does not apply on university campuses. Certainly a university authority or university police official does have the right to conduct an investigation if that investigation involved a search on the university campus or some other university property.

Why Are Stakes So High In Dorm Searches?

The stakes in dorm room searches can be particularly high because of what it is that they are trying to find in those particular rooms. If a person is in a dorm room and is being subject to search for some kind of drug-related items or weapons, the investigation does not stop there and actually will be translated to something more significant or something more serious, like criminal charges.

An individual is facing consequences in two directions. First, from the university. This could result in being thrown off campus or being removed from university housing all the way up to expulsion or suspension as a student. Second, criminal charges can be brought against that individual for whatever it is that they have done wrong. This could result in more significant consequences, such as criminal record, probation and sometimes even jail time.