Search of a College Dorm Room
I live in a dorm room and the college’s policy is that the police may search my dorm room since it is not technically mine, but I pay for it, do the police still require a search warrant according to the 4th amendment?
Parents may consent to their child’s room being searched, since the home is really the parent’s, not the child’s. An apartment, on the other hand, is technically the tenant’s during the period of the lease, and the landlord cannot consent to police searches on behalf of the tenant. Leases ordinarily provide that landlords can enter for a couple of limited purposes, such as to make repairs or show the place to future tenants, and the landlord must notify the tenant of the intent to enter for one of these purposes. Generally, there is a provision in the written lease covering this.
A university’s lease of a dorm room is more like the apartment situation‑that is unless the tenant signed a lease with a provision where the tenant expressly agrees that the university may consent to police searches. In that case, the tenant may be found to have given up their reasonable expectation of privacy in the leased dorm. Warrantless searches are generally found to be illegal when they violate one’s reasonable expectation of privacy. If the prosecuting attorney were trying to have such a search upheld in court (rather than having the seized items excluded from a trial’s evidence), the prosecutor would argue that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy. If the tenant actually signed a lease provision allowing the university to consent to dorm room searches, the State would have a strong case. If it’s merely ‘university policy’ to allow the police to search dorm rooms, the State’s case is much weaker, since the tenant is the leasehold owner with exclusive rights to occupy his/her home during the lease, and this carries a reasonable expectation of privacy.