Prefrosh Preview: Know your rights

Disclaimer: This post and the information herein is not nor should be taken as legal advice. Instead, use this post as a resource for the common legal issues students at Georgetown confront. This post is an updated version of Sara Ainsworth’s excellent post from last year and John Flanagan’s post from the year prior to last. The issues in prior posts will be included here.

If you’re making your way to the Hilltop, suffice to say that you’re aware the U.S. has this foundational legal document called the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment, denies the government the right to search a house or person or seize any of their effects therein, provided a reasonable expectation of privacy exists (Vox will go into specifics below). The only exception to these conditions would be when a judicial authority grants agents of the state (so, police, the FBI, etc.) specific and advance authorization to enter and/or seize based on reasonable suspicion of illegal activity.

Obviously, if these conditions have been violated, the Exclusionary Rule prevents any information obtained illegally (on the part of the government) in that way from being used in a court of law.

Don’t be stupid

Exceptions to these conditions include contraband in plain sight and a “stop and frisk,” provided there is reasonable suspicion for it. A private space can be searched by GUPD (most students still refer to GUPD as DPS) if there is reasonable suspicion due to excessive noise, the smell of smoke, etc. in order to prevent an emergency or to secure volatile evidence. If GUPD searches your room, make sure they have authorization from Student Affairs in advance.

Also, members of the University staff can enter your room for any administrative reason—repairs, safety inspections, and general housekeeping. If they knock and you aren’t there (or aren’t answering), they can enter your room as per the 2014-2015 Residence Hall & Townhouse Occupancy Agreement. If you’re living on campus, make sure you give Sections 7 and 8 a look.

In dorms

As an on-campus student, your rights are limited. Officially, University housing is free from search and seizure by University or law enforcement personnel. However, you are living on University property (which all freshmen will be, barring extraneous circumstances), so they can search your room without a warrant.

While students in on-campus housing have a reasonable expectation of privacy, state and federal courts have extended the definition of “agent of the state” to University officials who are “sworn officers of the state”[1]. University officials can also conduct searches when accompanied by law enforcement [2] or “when their primary purpose in conducting a search is to enforce of [sic] local law.” [3] Keep in mind also that the University can hand over any evidence obtained during a search (if done according to the conduct policy) to law enforcement. [4]

Again, a GUPD officer can search your room without a warrant. However, if the D.C. Metropolitan Police or any other agent of the law accompanies a University official, they must provide a search warrant whether or not you’re there. That warrant is only good for one search. If they come back, make sure there’s a new warrant in hand.

Behave yourself

The Georgetown Code of Student Conduct for 2013-2014, which is still in use as of June 2014, applies to your on-campus and your off-campus behavior. If you break a law in D.C. or even abroad in Spain, you’ve violated the Code of Student Conduct. Play it cool. Georgetown, like many boarding high schools, has a two-strike policy. Boarders, you’ll be old hands at this. Day students and schoolers, pay close attention. Generally, if this is your first offense, you’re going to be just fine. You won’t get kicked out. It gets shadier the worse your offense.

Drinking violations

The drinking age is a hard 21 years old. You know this. You aren’t permitted to drink in dry university housing or in residential spaces wherein the residents are under 21. If you’re of legal drinking age, bring your beer pong table by all means.

Make sure not to leave empty alcohol containers hanging around. You can be cited for those, too.

Most importantly, don’t lie about your age if you’re caught underage with alcohol or trying to get it. We upperclassmen can tell you’re freshmen (and so can GUPD). In fact, don’t lie, period. And, this probably goes without saying, never give a fake ID to a police officer. Not only are you sure to lose the fake ID, you’re likely to get in way more trouble than you would have otherwise.


Obviously, pot is still illegal in the District. Any form of drug, provided it’s not a personalized medical prescription, is in violation of D.C. law and the Code of Student Conduct. Even if you’re not using, you’re still violating the Code if you’re in the presence of drug use. Selling or otherwise distributing any illegal substances is a no no.

Also, don’t cook DMT in your Harbin dorm room. That should go without saying.

Judging you

If you seriously mess up, a Hearing Board, comprised of three students and two faculty or administrators, will vote on your case. You get to choose an adviser (who can’t have been busted along with you), who can provide moral support. They aren’t your advocate, though, so just pick your closest friend.

When deciding on your guilt, the proof the Complainant provides against you must be “clear and convincing,” meaning that you must be obviously guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s different for sexual assault, though: the standard of proof is “more likely than not” for sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

If you’re wrongly convicted or you don’t get the conviction you want, you can appeal, but you’re still held to the “clear and convincing” standard.

Free speech

Free speech zones have been expanded to include the New South Student Center, along with Leavey, Regents Lawn, and, of course, Red Square. If you feel your freedom of speech (as per the new policy) has been wrongly stifled, you can send complaints to the Speech and Expressions committee here.

While this is pending confirmation by WGTB Georgetown Radio, WGTB broadcasts “fall within the free speech protections of the Policy, and therefore may discuss any topic they so choose.” As far as the rest of on-campus media outlets go, there are “no content restrictions outside of long-standing university policy related to paid advertising.”

Trust us, Vox and the rest of the Voice can basically publish whatever we want. I mean, we ran a comic of President John DeGioia in T. rex form fighting Megashark.

If you’re caught

A. If your room is searched, both verbally state and write out that you did not consent to the search. Ask for the warrant.

B. Do not admit to any crime you are not charged with.

C. If called in for questioning, whether to Metro Police or GUPD, you are able to refuse. They may offer a less severe punishment, but those are often empty promises. You don’t want to give up any incriminating evidence, so avoid losing home-field advantage if you are able.

D. Don’t incriminate yourself. Only answer questions. Don’t volunteer information needlessly.

E. Don’t incriminate others if you can avoid it. You may be promised a commuted sentence or lesser consequences if you incriminate others, but GUPD and Metro PD are not required to keep these promises.

F. To quote my predecessor: “If you’re in serious trouble, don’t tell the police about it. Tell a lawyer.”

Photo: Victor via Flickr

[1] Smyth v. Lubbers, 398 F. Supp. 777 (W.D. Mich. 1975)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Piazzola v. Watkins, 422 F.2d 284 (5th Cir. 1971)

[4] State v. Burroughs, 926 S.W.2d 243 (Tenn. 1996)


One Comment on “Prefrosh Preview: Know your rights

  1. I’m not a lawyer, but based on my reading of the D.C. code…

    Underage drinking and fake ID possession has been quasi-decriminalized, so it’s definitely not worth it to lie if you’re picked up by MPD. You should be allowed to complete a diversion program, which is a class and some community service, in lieu of a misdemeanor conviction for a first and second offense (D.C. Code § 25-1002).

    Also, upperclassmen shouldn’t be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, such as providing alcohol to underage folk, unless they’re more than 4 years older (D.C. Code § 22-811(a)).

    In any case, you should generally be immune from prosecution for any offense if you call EMS to take care of someone that has had too much to drink or overdosed on drugs.

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