I was interviewed last week for the college newspaper at Cal Poly about drug dog searches, so I figured I would discuss how that works here in Washington state. Washington is a little different than California because Washington has a state constitution that gives more privacy rights to college students than the U.S. constitution. In Washington, the courts have recognized that dormitory hallways are different than the hallways of apartment buildings. In college dorms, all the students live together and all attend class together, and unlike an apartment building, the rooms are merely living quarters, and all the residents share a bathroom. But while a student has some expectation of privacy in a dormitory hallway, our state schools have amended their policies to make it clear that campus police have the power to patrol the common or shared areas of residence halls. While the policies don’t explicitly authorize the police to bring drug dogs, other legal precedents suggest that generally a police dog is allowed anywhere the officer himself may be.
While it is generally legal to have drug dogs in dormitory hallways, there are practical problems that arise. One of the problems is that fewer and fewer drug dogs are being trained to alert on marijuana. On December 6th, 2012, Washington voters passed initiative I-502 decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Law enforcement agencies no longer can make arrests for marijuana possession unless the individual is under the age of 21. College police departments in Washington generally do not have their own drug canine. Additionally detecting marijuana in a college dorm can be daunting. Because of the drug’s prevalence, the scent can be overwhelming for a dog. In a common living arrangement it can be hard for authorities to prove who the marijuana actually belonged to. College students have been known to sprinkle marijuana throughout a dormitory to try to fool the dog. As was the case with the students in California the biggest effect that the dog has is the deterrent factor, or psychological factor on the college students.
As a criminal defense lawyer what I see most is school officials sniffing at the bottom of dorm room doors trying to smell marijuana. Having a towel stuffed at the base of the door is usually a telltale sign too.