Saturday, April 10, 2021

Knowing Your Rights With Campus Police

There are few things as jarring for a young person new to the freedom of college life than being confronted by police on campus. Thankfully, most of these interactions do not develop into more serious problems, and students’ rights often aren’t infringed.

However, what if a more serious incident takes place? It’s vital to know your rights when dealing with campus police — preferably before an incident occurs. Here’s what you need to know.


Can I Remain Silent?

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees you the right to remain silent during police questioning. This applies whether you’re stopped by the “real” police or campus police, who nevertheless often have the same rights to arrest you. 

If you feel that your rights are under threat, respectfully state that you wish to exercise your right to remain silent and request a lawyer before answering any further questions.

However, you should be aware that some schools have disciplinary policies for failing to cooperate with a university investigation.


Can I Refuse a Search Without a Warrant?

According to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, you do not have to agree to a search of your body or apartment unless the police have a warrant or there is “probable cause.”

The threshold for probable cause is actually relatively high. Smelling marijuana smoke underneath someone’s door does not suffice as probable cause. Sufficient cause would only be present if, for example, it was clear a violent act was being committed. The police may not ask an RA to simply let them into your dorm room.

However, if you live in college housing, it may be part of your school policy or rental agreement that campus police have the right to “inspect” the property. University staff must typically give 24-hours notice under most university procedures. Without explicit consent or a warrant, any contraband found can not be used against you in a criminal investigation. It may, however, result in university disciplinary action.


What Are the DUI Rules on My Campus?

Referred to as DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or variously in certain states as OUI (Operating Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Intoxicated), punishments for driving while drunk by the legal authorities are separate from those imposed by a college’s code of conduct.

Whether you are stopped for suspicion of DUI by campus police, municipal, or state police, some of the same basic rules apply. First, you do not have to submit to a breathalyzer test. However, in most jurisdictions, this will result in a suspension of your license for up to 90 days. Also, you do not have to step out of your car to do a “field sobriety test” in many jurisdictions.

If you are arrested as a college student, it is often the same as if you are any other adult, but it can also be very different in several ways. There are often programs to help you if you have been arrested for DUI as a student or first-time offender, depending on where you are. 

You do not have to consent to a search of your person unless you are under arrest. Police need a search warrant to search your vehicle. If the police stop you, you must provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance. However, you do not need to tell them where you are coming from or where you are going.


What Should I Do if Campus Police Arrest Me?

photo-of-man-being-arrested-by-campus-police
Campus police often have the ability to arrest you. Photo: 4711018/Pixabay

Depending on whether the police on your campus are merely security guards or officers of the campus police force — which have all the authority of any police — you may be arrested. 

Preparing in Advance

If you are headed into a situation where you think there is a possibility you could be arrested, you must prepare accordingly. It’s likely that you will not have access to your cell phone, so memorize your family’s phone numbers and even your lawyer’s. If you have children or take any medications, you should formulate an emergency plan with personal contacts to have these issues taken care of just in case you are taken into custody. 

While You’re Being Arrested

When you are arrested by police they must inform you of your Miranda rights, that is, “You have the right to remain silent,” et cetera. Take this seriously. You don’t have to say anything — and shouldn’t — without an attorney present. This is universal throughout the United States, on or off-campus. 

When You’re in Custody

Law enforcement officers might try to “buddy-up” and act like your friend to get you to reveal information that may incriminate you. Also, some may try to bully you into revealing information which, rightly or wrongly, may make you appear guilty in court. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to consent to a search of your home or car.

You also have the right to make a local phone call. Police are not allowed to listen if you call your lawyer — but they can listen to calls made to anyone else.


What if Campus Police Violate My Rights?

Students regularly exercise their constitutional rights on campus, including free speech. If you feel that your rights have been violated, you should take a few precautions to protect your legal options.

At the Time of the Violation

First, do not resist arrest or a search to which you have not consented. Physically resisting officers is a crime and, whether or not you have already committed a crime, you will almost certainly be thought guilty if you fight back.

Second, it is crucial to document everything you can. Ask officers for their names and get their badge and car numbers. If you have a phone camera, record events as they are happening. This is your legal right, so long as you do not interfere in police work or otherwise present a danger.

Most importantly, do not incriminate yourself by speaking without having a lawyer present. Take the names of witnesses and contact them as soon as possible to obtain their statements. Send them your understanding of the events in writing and ask them if they witnessed the same thing.

After the Violation

If you feel your rights have been violated by university administration, take your documented complaint as high up the chain of command as you can. Lower-level administrators would often like nothing more than to bury an issue to save themselves an additional headache. 

You are guaranteed due process before any disciplinary action can be taken. You should learn how this process works before becoming embroiled in it.

If you feel you have no other recourse, go to media outlets to tell your story. If your rights have genuinely been violated, there is nothing like the power of bad publicity to dissuade university administration from pursuing a case unless it is clearly justified.


Campus police are not all-powerful; they are there to protect you and must respect your rights as they carry out their duties. As a college student, you have many rights that can not be taken away from you — by campus police, university administration, or anyone else.

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