College students and constitutional rights
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College students and constitutional rights

This time of year, when colleges are notifying applicants of their acceptance, seems like a good time to talk about college students’ legal rights. Even kids who have never gotten into trouble before can find themselves facing legal consequences when they’re living away from home for the first time.

Are campus police officers “real” police?

Among the most important things they should know is what to do when they encounter law enforcement officers. Unfortunately, many students don’t consider campus police to be “real” police. That’s a dangerous mistake to make.

The status of campus police varies by college. The University of Georgia, for example, has its own police department, which is certified by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. Even if campus security personnel are privately contracted, you can be assured that they have close ties to local police. It’s never wise to treat them with less respect than you’d treat any law enforcement officer. You could face serious sanctions from the university if you don’t.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have rights. College students have the same constitutional rights as anyone else, including the right to remain silent. Your student should know how to assert that right firmly but politely when refusing to answer questions beyond their name and to assert their right to legal representation.

Whose permission is needed for a search?

One area that gets college students into trouble – even those who have done nothing wrong – is when it comes to searches of their dorm room or other housing. Many college students either live on campus in dorms or special housing like fraternity or sorority houses. Others live off-campus with roommates in apartments or houses. Either way, it means that multiple people can give police permission to enter and search.

Unless police believe a crime is taking place, evidence is being destroyed or someone is in danger, they need permission or a warrant. However, they’re typically allowed to search only the common areas and the individual bedrooms of those who gave permission. If something illegal is found in someone’s room who wasn’t around to grant or deny permission, it may not be admissible as evidence.

If your college student is facing charges, it’s crucial to understand that they could affect both their freedom and their college education. Whether they’re innocent or they made an unfortunate choice, they shouldn’t face the justice system without legal guidance.