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Read Me My Rights

I believe college students are targeted by police, probably for good reasons. What should I know when dealing with police?

All college students think about this, hopefully few are actually in these situations. It should be no surprise that the leading cause of arrest is drug- and alcohol-related offenses, with over 45K annually on campuses. Here are the rights you should know.

The first misconception most students have is that the campus cops have no real power, they are not real cops. This largely depends on the college. Most of them contract state or local police to provide additional security on campus. This means that they have full, official police authority to stop, search, question and arrest suspects on campus or off.

Some campuses employ private security firms, which have limited powers. These are usually distinguished by their uniforms. The limits of their authority depend on university policy and should be understood by students on campus.

Searches are subject to the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from search and seizure without probable cause. However, a perfunctory weapons pat down is usually justifiable.

Campus police or security do not generally have the right to enter and search your room or dorm. Under the Constitution, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy for where you live, whether it is a dorm or rented house. Searches are subject to consent or a warrant. However, if the accommodation is on campus, it is private property and maybe subject to different rules. These should be stipulated in your rental contract. Campus security may have the right to enter all university premises without warrants, warn criminal defense attorneys.

Vehicle searches are subject to similar regulations. You can refuse, but be aware that probable cause is wide reaching. It can include suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime. Appearing intoxicated or having contraband visible to the officer, will usually end up in a vehicle search.

Mobile phones are different, according to a recent Supreme Court decision. The police cannot search your cell phone or laptop without extenuating circumstances.

The Miranda Rights (right to remain silent) only apply when you are placed in custody and are about to be questioned. These Fifth Amendment protections provide the right to remain silent; this protects you from making any self-incriminating statements. Some campuses have disciplinary policies for refusing to cooperate with police or security.

Miranda also entitles anyone in custody to have a lawyer present during questioning. Chances are most students will not be able to afford a criminal lawyer, so a public attorney will be provided, if you request one.

If you get pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, you can refuse the roadside, field sobriety test. If you do, this will probably mean a trip to the station to provide a blood sample.

Finally, if an officer does not place you under arrest, you can ask if you are free to go. If so, you are legally entitled to walk away.

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Jacob Maslow is the founder and editor of Legal Scoops.