A guide to your rights when dealing with campus police officers

Austen Erblat

DISCLAIMER: While this page contains a discussion of general legal principles and specific laws, it is neither intended to be given as legal advice nor as the practice of law and should not be relied upon by readers as such.


  • Miranda Rights

    • Right to Remain Silent: When officers read you your Miranda Rights — which they are required to do after placing someone in custody, before questioning them — the “right to remain silent” means you are not required to answer the officer’s questions. In fact, the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution protects you from making any self-incriminating statements. “Anything you say can and may be used against you in a court of law” means exactly what it sounds like.

    • Right to an Attorney: Miranda Rights entitle anyone in custody to have an attorney or lawyer present while being questioned. Attorneys know the law and know what police officers are allowed to ask and what you are required to answer. The author of this story is not a lawyer, so if anything you have done is in question, you should contact one. The Sixth Amendment grants people the right to an attorney and a fair, speedy and public trial. “If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.” If you blow your rent money on beer and then get stopped on your way home from the bar, chances are you can’t afford a criminal attorney. Every county in the state has a Public Defender’s office with attorneys that serve the public when they cannot afford a private attorney.

    • Final Questions: In the state of Florida, officers are required to ask these two questions:

      • Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you?

      • Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?

    • You can always ask an officer to explain these rights if you didn’t read them here, or can’t remember them or are overwhelmed by a police presence, and of course, you can always refuse to speak with them. An officer cannot arrest you for not talking to them, but if you do admit that was your joint or that wasn’t your bike, you can be written up on conduct charges or even be hauled off to jail.
  • Refusing Search: The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from illegal search and seizure.

    • Vehicle Search: If a police officer asks if he can search your car, you can say “I don’t consent to searches.” This may not stop the officer from searching your car, but to do so legally, he must find probable cause or reasonable suspicion that you are committing — or are about to commit — a crime. Probable cause could include observing someone who is intoxicated (red or glassy eyes, slurred speech), certain odors (alcohol on one’s breath, marijuana smoke), or anything in plain sight of the officer (alcohol bottle, roach, plastic baggy, weapon).

    • Dorm Search: Every college is different, and though there is nothing in FAU’s Housing and Residential Life Guidebook or the housing contracts actively allowing it, that doesn’t mean FAU Police is prohibited from entering your dorm room. The dorms are university property, which may be more than enough for them to enter without a search warrant. Tread lightly.

  • “Am I under arrest or am I free to go?”

    • Police officers are required to inform you if you are being placed under arrest, being detained or free to go, especially if you ask. If an officer threatens to arrest you, call a K9 unit, obtain a search warrant or anything else, you can ask the officer if you are under arrest. If not you are free to walk — not run — away.