TX: Dorm RA couldn’t consent to police entry to dorm room to search for drugs

An RA in a college dorm searched defendant’s room and found drugs. The police were called and they entered the room and seized the drugs. There is no dorm room exception to the Fourth Amendment. This is not the same as the RA removing the drugs and handing them over to the police because the police entered a “constitutionally protected area” with a reasonable expectation of privacy. State v. Rodriguez, 2017 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 569 (June 7, 2017) (no opinion link):

Resident assistants searched the dorm room of Mikenzie Renee Rodriguez, found drugs, and called their director, who in turn called the police. The police then entered the room and seized the drugs. Rodriguez was indicted for possession of a controlled substance. The trial court granted Rodriguez’s motion to suppress and, on the State’s appeal, the court of appeals affirmed—holding there is no college dorm room exception to the Fourth Amendment. State v. Rodriguez, ___ S.W.3d ___, 2015 WL 5714548 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2015). We granted review because this is an issue of first impression to this Court. We agree with the court of appeals that the officers’ physical intrusion into a constitutionally protected area was a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. And because it was done without a warrant, consent, or special needs, the fruits of that search were rightly suppressed. We affirm.

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This case is more like those in multiple other jurisdictions holding that a college student retains an expectation of privacy in his or her dorm room even though university officials may enter the dorm for routine searches. For example, in Commonwealth v. Neilson, public college officials, who had reserved the right to inspect dormitory rooms, entered Neilson’s dormitory room to investigate the prohibited keeping of a cat. 666 N.E.2d 984 (Mass. 1996). The officials inadvertently discovered a marijuana-growing operation. Instead of seizing the marijuana and turning it over to the police, or providing information to the police so they could get a search warrant, the officials invited the police to enter the room and seize the marijuana plants. The Neilson court held that, because the police entered the room without a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances, the search was unreasonable and violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Id. at 987; See also State v. Houvener, 186 P.3d 370, 376 (Wash. Ct. App. 2008); Walker, 143 Cal. App. 4th at 1209; Piazzola, 442 F.2d at 289; Cohen, 292 N.Y.S.2d at 709; McCloskey, 272 A.2d at 273; Morale, 422 F.Supp. at 997; Smyth, 398 F. Supp. at 786; State v. Jordan, 225 P.3d 1211 (Kan. Ct. App. 2010) (unpublished table op.); State v. Ellis, No. 05CA78, 2006 WL 827376 (Ohio Ct. App. March 31, 2006) (not designated for publication). See also Andrew MacKie-Mason, The Private Search Doctrine After Jones, 126 YALE L. J. FORUM 326 (2017) (arguing that Jacobsen’s holding is limited to the Katz half of the definition of “search”; “Jacobson focused on the ease with which an individual’s privacy interest may be eroded; the property interest central to Jones, however, is not so easily destroyed. Thus, a prior private search does not have the same relevance to a trespass inquiry as it does to a privacy inquiry.”).

We decline to extend the private-party-search doctrine to a residence, in this case, a college dorm room. Appellee retained her expectation of privacy in her room even though school officials had already entered the room pursuant to the housing agreement. Because it is undisputed that the search—whether classified a trespassory invasion or expectation of privacy violation—occurred without a search warrant, we consider whether the search was justified under an exception to the warrant requirement.

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