What do you do when your dorm room is searched? I get this question quite a bit from students at Sam Houston State University. First, hire an experienced criminal defense attorney before you speak with anyone. The Sam Houston State faculty members and staff are very aggressive with what they consider to be drug and alcohol violations. Your academic career may be on the line. Don’t take chances. A new decision by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas has given us some guidance as to what the current state of the law is on dorm room searches and seizures.
In State of Texas v. Mikenzie Renee Rodriguez, resident assistants (RAs) conducted a dorm room search of Ms. Rodriguez’s personal space. The RAs found drugs and then called their director at the University who in turn called the police. The police responded, entered the dorm room, and seized the drugs. Ms. Rodriguez was then formally charged or indicted for possession of a controlled substance. Ms. Rodriguez was smart and hired an experienced criminal defense attorney who then filed a motion to suppress. The State of Texas appealed and the court of appeals affirmed. In their holding, the court of appeals held that there is no dorm room exception to the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas subsequently granted review.
As is typical in most college dorm rooms, Ms. Rodriguez shared the room with another student. You may know that there is typically an agreement between you, the student, and the university which permits routine inspections by authorized university personnel. The agreement at this Texas university provided that, “duly authorized personnel of (said university) reserve the right to enter student rooms at any time for emergency purposes or for the purpose of maintenance, repair, and inspection for health, safety, or violation of university regulations. Here, the resident assistants were doing routine room checks for prohibited items such as microwave ovens, candles, and of course drugs and alcohol. While performing a room check on Ms. Rodriguez’s dorm room, no one was present. According to the RAs the first trunk that was checked had marijuana located inside. The RAs then contacted the resident director who instructed them to do a more thorough search of the dorm room. On the second search, the RAs found a matchbox with several tablets located inside that appeared to be ecstasy. The RAs also found a pipe located in a sock. The pill box and the pipe were laid on the floor and the RAs took pictures of the items. The university police were then contacted.