College student rights and responsibilities with campus police

On Behalf of | Jun 11, 2022 | Campus criminal charges

College is a time of new and different experiences for young adults. Unfortunately, they aren’t always positive ones. Some college students have a difficult time adjusting to their new freedom – especially if they’re away from home.

If your child is starting college in the fall, whether locally at James Madison University (JMU) or at another school in Virginia or out of state, it’s crucial that they understand the authority held by the campus police. Not respecting that authority can get them in unnecessary trouble.

Are campus police “real” police?

Many college students make the mistake of thinking of campus police more as security guards. While some smaller schools do have private security guards, many have their own police departments. Their officers can – and do – make arrests.

Even if your college student is at a school without a police department, their security personnel likely have a close relationship with local law enforcement agencies. They can call them in to handle situations they may not have the authority or resources to deal with.

Understanding one’s constitutional rights

While it’s crucial that college students understand and respect the authority of campus police, they also need to know and protect their own rights. They have a Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions (other than those involving basic identifying information) from a law enforcement officer on campus or off. It’s possible, however, that not cooperating with campus police could still have disciplinary consequences at their school.

Another constitutional right that can sometimes be limited for college students involves the Fourth Amendment. That amendment, in part, protects people from illegal search and seizure in their homes. If your student is living in a dorm or any property owned by the school, their rental agreement should note any right that any campus employee has to enter and search. 

The larger risk is usually that a roommate will allow police to come in. This can give them the opportunity to see and seize anything in plain sight anywhere in the room or suite, like illegal drugs or weapons.

If your child has been arrested at college, it’s crucial to make sure that their rights weren’t violated and to ensure that they have legal guidance. It’s not an exaggeration to say that their education and potentially their entire future could be at stake. 

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