Philadelphia is home to many revered institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, St Joseph’s, La Salle, and Drexel. Even the suburbs and Main Line boast esteemed schools, such as Villanova, Bryn Mawr College, and Haverford College. A little further away is West Chester University and many other institutions of higher education. While these are all pillars of academic excellence that attract thousands of students yearly, they also have bustling – youthful populations.

And, as we all know, young people make mistakes. They’re also an easy target for overzealous officials, mistaken identity, and misunderstandings. Students too often find themselves navigating legal entanglements with implications that may impact their academic careers and criminal records.

So, whether your roommate accuses you of stealing or a party ends in your arrest, as a college student, you should be aware of your rights – on and off campus.

Charges Common on College Campuses

College students can find themselves facing legal issues. However, certain charges are more common due to the unique environment of college campuses and the typical age and lifestyle of students in the Philadelphia area.

Frequent charges involving college students:

Student Rights in Dorms & Campus Housing

Student life is more than lectures, exams, and football games. Living on campus is a rite of passage. Dormitory life comes with its own set of rules. It also represents the first time many young adults are granted considerable personal freedom.

Students are Sometimes Protected by the 4th Amendment.

Generally, every U.S. citizen is protected by the Fourth Amendment. This guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. But, in a college setting, like dorms or campus housing, there are nuances. For instance, an unjustified entry by a state-run institution’s college official might be unconstitutional. However, things are different at private colleges.

At private institutions, established housing policies often dictate the terms of room searches. Once agreed upon in housing contracts, these policies permit searches for reasons like safety inspections or maintenance checks. As a result, students at private colleges might find themselves with fewer protections.

Students Do Have an Expectation of Privacy

Campus officials can’t just barge into your room without cause. Like homeowners or apartment renters, college students have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their dorms or campus apartments.

Just as police need a warrant or valid reason to search a home, similar requirements apply to dorms. This can be muddled if a student has agreed to specific terms upon entering, as most universities have policies allowing for health and safety checks.

For example, if a campus official asks to look inside your mini-fridge and you agree, any contraband could be used against you. On the other hand, declining a search might lead to other consequences. It’s essential to review your housing agreement to understand your rights and the extent to which campus staff can inspect your living quarters.

The Role of Campus Police

Campus police are crucial to maintaining a safe and secure environment. They also play a role during university events, such as sporting events or concerts, where crowd control is needed.

At many large institutions around Philadelphia, like Temple, campus police are not merely security guards. Many are trained officers with powers akin to police. They can stop, question, and arrest you if they suspect a crime.

For example, suppose there’s a report of a theft in a campus building. Campus police can gather evidence, interview witnesses, and make an arrest if they identify a suspect. In more severe cases, campus police may even work alongside the local police department, including the Philadelphia Police Department.

This collaboration provides a seamless police response and formidable safety presence on Philly-area campuses, but it’s not without criticism. Complaints often stem from the lack of typical protections, worries about fairness, a lower requirement for guilt, and limited legal representation.

Do Campus Cops Need Probable Cause?

Campus security has more leeway to conduct searches based on university policies. They typically require a warrant or probable cause, like local police, unless there are exigent circumstances.

Even without a warrant, if campus security or police have probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed (they smell marijuana or hear sounds of violence), they might be able to search your dorm. If there’s an immediate safety threat or a risk of losing evidence, this can qualify as an exigent circumstance.

What To Do If Arrested/Accused by Campus Security?

Being arrested or questioned by university police can be daunting for a college student.

Imagine you’re in your dorm, and campus police knock on your door. They allege that you were involved in a crime. Here’s what you should remember:

  • Stay Calm: Any aggressive or confrontational behavior can worsen the situation. Maintain your composure, even if you’re being wrongfully accused.
  • Remain Silent: You don’t have to answer questions without representation. While you might feel the urge to defend yourself, anything you say can be used against you.
  • Avoid Self-Incrimination: Be cautious if you speak to campus security. For instance, saying, “I only borrowed it for a day,” could be construed as an admission of guilt in a theft.
  • Request a Lawyer: Given the possible challenges, if campus police confront you, students should know their rights. Get a lawyer. Tell the police “I want a lawyer.” Even if campus or Philadelphia police continue to question or arrest you, repeat your request and refrain from further comment.

Beware Administrative Penalties

While most students are vaguely aware of campus rules, many don’t realize the gravity of the situation until they face them. University student conduct policies are vast and complicated, encompassing everything from academic integrity to illegal activity.

Many of these administrative rules also exist somewhat parallel to, yet independent from, the legal system. Even if you avoid criminal consequences, your university may still take disciplinary action. A typical example may be public intoxication being addressed with community service and mandatory counseling. In more extreme cases, like those involving sexual assault, Title IX provisions could lead to expulsion.

Legal Representation for College Students

Being charged with a crime during your college years can be overwhelming. While you may feel that you can navigate the situation alone, especially if you believe the charges to be minor or unjustified, the complexities of both the legal and university systems make it essential to have a qualified attorney.

Attorneys bring a depth of knowledge and experience that can be invaluable for college students facing criminal charges. They can help students understand their rights within the university’s framework and the broader legal system.

When facing campus police or disciplinary committees, having a lawyer can ensure that a student’s rights are protected and that they aren’t inadvertently self-incriminating. A lawyer can also review university housing or conduct agreements, ensuring students understand their agreement.

Additionally, if a student faces university disciplinary action and criminal charges – a lawyer can guide on both fronts. They can negotiate with university officials while preparing a defense.

Fienman Defense Fights for Philly-Area Students

Suppose you or your college-age child is facing criminal charges for something that happened on campus. You both should understand their rights and have a dedicated professional on your side. These aren’t issues easily fixed by admitting guilt and asking for leniency. Academic futures, future careers, and freedoms could be on the line.

Fienman Defense is deeply committed to defending good students in challenging situations. We understand the intricacies of the local legal system and the unique disciplinary processes of various educational institutions in and around Philadelphia.

Philadelphia defense attorney Michael Fienman has been defending clients in and around Philadelphia since 2010 and has considerable experience in cases involving college students throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He has a documented record of success in both state and federal courts and is ready to help. To learn more, call (215) 839-9529 for a free and confidential case evaluation. We’ll discuss the details, your options, and what’s next.

Attorney Michael H. Fienman represents clients in criminal and traffic matters throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Mr. Fienman has completed the same DWI detection training as most law enforcement officers, and he holds a certificate in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As an experienced trial attorney, he understand your rights and is a zealous advocate with a reputation for relentlessly defending clients in state court, federal court, and before administrative agencies.

Attorney Fienman is licensed to practice before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, and the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

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