College students are never exactly sure where they stand with privacy rights in a dormitory. They are told they are adults and that they are independent, but if they live in university dormitories, there are still certain rules that they have to live by. While I-502 decriminalized marijuana in Washington State, colleges and universities in Washington still have strict rules against marijuana possession. Nowhere is this more true than at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. While alcohol and underage drinking seems to be the biggest threat to the safety of campus safety, the school has still taken a tough line on cannabis in recent weeks.
Despite court decisions supporting the privacy rights of students in dormitories, it is still common for police to roam the halls of college dormitories sniffing for the odor of marijuana. Sometimes this occurs by the police on hands and knees sniffing at the base of the dorm room doors. It seemed that this should have come to an end in 2008 when the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled that it was inappropriate for police to be in the dormitory halls of Washington State University without just cause. However, WSU quickly amended their policy allowing local police in Pullman to enter the dorms for the purposes of such “safety checks.” The current regulation allows police in the common areas of dormitories along with residence hall staff, RAs, RDs, etc. The constitutionality of this has not been ruled on by the appellate courts.
It is common for lawyers to receive phone calls from students who have university staff searching through their desk drawers and personal belongings. While it is important to be polite to the police and college employees, it is also important to know not to consent to any search or to make any statements incriminating yourself. An example of an incriminating statement would be admitting that you knew that the marijuana or alcohol was in your room, or admitting that the marijuana or alcohol was yours. If you have beer in your dorm room refrigerator, it may seem pretty obvious that it is “yours.” However, for a prosecuting attorney to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the beer is yours is another matter. Most dorm rooms have more than one student living there.
It is important for students to avoid having MIP or marijuana possession charges on their record when they graduate.