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Searches of Dorm Rooms in Washington State

If you live in University Housing, whether that is in on-campus apartments or in residence halls, you have a recognized constitutional right to privacy. The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s right to privacy in their own home. In State v. Houvener, the court extended this right to privacy to include the hallways in your dorm. However, it’s important to remember that there are circumstances when police officers can still enter your residence hall.

  1. The first thing you should do when moving into on-campus housing is to read the policies in the Student Handbook. The Handbook will specifically state what the rules for drug use, alcohol use, and other contraband activities are in your residence hall or apartment, and what will happen if you violate those rules.

What happens if you have contraband in your dorm room?

  1. Searches by University Staff
    1. University staff in residence halls, such as your resident assistants, can search your room in certain circumstances. For example, at Eastern Washington University, “University staff reserve the right to enter rooms after knocking when presented with a safety or community standards concern. Examples of community standards include, but are not limited to, noise and odor complaints.” This would include the smell of marijuana in your room, and noise complaints stemming from alcohol use. This is why it’s important to make sure to read your university residence life Student Handbook when you move into on-campus housing.
  1. Searches by Police Officers
    1. Police are required to have a search warrant to search and enter your door room, unless you consent. If a police officer comes to your door, the GOLDEN RULE and most important thing to remember is not to consent to a search of your room unless they have a warrant. University officials cannot provide consent to police officers on your behalf. For example, at Washington State University, “a university official may not consent to a search of a student’s room by the police or other government officials. However, WSU may permit a search pursuant to a warrant or where warrantless entry is lawful.”

Having police officers or university officials knock on your door can be a very intimidating experience. It may seem like your best option is to comply, however, that is rarely the case. It’s important to remember that you have a constitutional right to privacy in your on-campus housing.

important note about marijuana use:

Even though you attend a university in a state where marijuana is legal, it is still federally illegal. That means that universities have the right to prohibit all marijuana use on campus. For example, all marijuana use is prohibited at universities including, but not limited to: Gonzaga University, Washington State University and Eastern Washington University.