*The following is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Always speak to an attorney before relying on anything*
Usually not, but under certain circumstances they may. I have personally beaten at least a dozen dorm room searches at the University of Arkansas. There are numerous court exceptions to the warrant requirement, including: consent, emergencies, hot pursuit, vehicles, and emergency sweeps. Let’s focus on the ones most likely to come up in the dorm room setting.
When you apply for on-campus housing at the U of A, you are required to sign a housing contract. It states, in part, that your dorm room may be entered: “in cases of emergency, for maintenance, pest control, safety inspection, or when University officials have reasonable grounds to believe that a student may be violating University policy, University regulations, or the law.”
Let’s break this down.
- In cases of emergency. This includes the obvious such as: fires, medical issues, violent situations, flooding or any other real emergency situation which might come up.
- Maintenance/Pest Control. These two are self-explanatory.
- Safety Inspection. These inspections are in place to make sure you don’t have anything like open flames, hot plates, or other items which may pose a safety issue to the dorm building and/or the other residents.
- Reasonable grounds to believe there has been a violation of policy, regulations or the law. Let’s explore this issue below:
—–By law, University of Arkansas Police Department officers must inform you that you have a right to refuse consent to a search of your “dwelling” (in this case, your dorm room) before searching your room based upon consent. If they do not, then any evidence found later may be excluded from your trial. That means you might win!
In your housing contract, you agreed that UAPD officers may enter your dorm upon reasonable grounds of a violation. The key word is “enter.” You have not given them a right to “search” your dorm room based upon reasonable grounds…only “enter.” However, it stands to reason that any contraband in plain view during an “entry” is subject to confiscation. This contract language is untested in court, and a court may hold that some portions of the contract are invalid because they do not inform you of your right to refuse consent in applicable situations. It’s an unknown at this point.
In short, it is usually a good idea to politely refuse consent to all searches. If the officer searches anyway, do not resist or argue. These arguments are better saved for the courtroom. If you have any questions, call King Law Group, PLLC at 479-782-1125.
Statute and Housing Contract Language:
—-Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 11.1
RULE 11.1 AUTHORITY TO SEARCH AND SEIZE PURSUANT TO CONSENT
(a) An officer may conduct searches and make seizures without a search warrant or other color of authority if consent is given to the search.
(b) The state has the burden of proving by clear and positive evidence that consent to a search was freely and voluntarily given and that there was no actual or implied duress or coercion.
(c) A search of a dwelling based on consent shall not be valid under this rule unless the person giving the consent was advised of the right to refuse consent. For purposes of this subsection, a “dwelling” means a building or other structure where any person lives or which is customarily used for overnight accommodation of persons. Each unit of a structure divided into separately occupied units is itself a dwelling.
—–Housing contract states: XI. Right of Entry
A. Students have a reasonable right of privacy in their
assigned room and their belongings. However, University
Housing Facilities, rooms, and Student Assignments may be
entered by University officials or staff in cases of emergency,
for maintenance, pest control, safety inspection, or when
University officials have reasonable grounds to believe that a
student may be violating University policy, University
regulations, or the law.
B. In order to provide better health standards in University
Housing Facilities, the University takes periodic pest control
measures. Residents will be notified when regular spraying,
fogging, or other treatment of Student Assignments will occur
and the University reserves the right to exercise its Right of
Entry in such cases.
C. Requests for maintenance made by residents for work or
repairs in their Student Assignment grant University personnel
the Right of Entry without notification to the resident.
D. Rooms/apartments may be periodically inspected for
health/safety violations. Violations may result in administrative
charges, conduct action and/or the termination of the
University Housing contract.