TheWashington Court of Appeals recently upheld a 2006 ruling thatevidenceagainst aWashington State University student was unlawfully obtainedby police during a residence hall search.
The decision, released June 26, said the student, Jacob Houvener, had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the hallway of his dormitory. Thesixth floor of Stephenson residence hall shared common living areas and is viewed as a separate living area from the other floors.
The court also affirmed that the police were not lawfully present in the student residents sixth floor living area because the police had no greater right, absent a warrant or consent, than a private citizen to act in the manner that they did.
The ruling regards an inicident on February 11, 2006, when WSU police officer Matthew Kuhrtwas called tothe residence hall on reports of a burglary. He searched the building until he came to Houveners room, where he heard music and voices.
He listened at the doorjamb and heard voices say Im just paranoid were going to get caught, and I dont think he would call the cops. Kuhrt then tried a ruse to get the students to open the door. When they didnt he identified himself as a police officer and ordered them to open the door.
The full impact of the court's decision on WSU is not yet known, but the university wrote in a statement they have been in the process of reviewing our policies regarding the police presence in the residence halls and will continue to do so in the light of this ruling.
The WACs at issue, 504-24-020(2)(d) and (e), stated at the time that all guests must be escorted while in the building and defined guests as anyone not residing in the residence hall. In response to the 2006 ruling, the WSU Board of Regents voted to change the WAC to allow those who perform safety, emergency, security, police, or fire protection services to have access to the residence halls at all times.
The June ruling did not pass judgment on the revised WAC, saying in a footnote, We decline to comment on the (effect), if any, these new regulations would have on our decision. Two of the judges signed the ruling while the third, Judge Dennis Brown, filed a concurring opinion that agreed with the result but disagreed that police have no right to be in the residence halls.
Citing that historically the university has given passkeys to police and allowed inspections without invitation from residents, Brown wrote, I do not agree with Jacob Houvener that Officer Matt Kuhrt lacked legal authority to enter his dormitory hallway. Clothed with this authority, police have routinely been present in dormitory hallways. Thus, student residents lack the requisite expectation of privacy to exclude police and safety personnel. The impact of the appeals court ruling at WSU is not yet fully known. WSU Police Chief Bill Gardner said the ruling means fairly little to the department.
Our policy already reflects pretty much what the latest finding gives to us, so we arent going to deviate from that, he said. Our policy to begin with was that we dont do routine patrols. Gardner said WSU police patrol the grounds outside the residence halls, but any patrols inside were incidental more than routine. We dont have the sort of staff to do routine patrols. Every once in a while someone might find themselves in the residence halls and they might wander around a bit. But we dont do that anymore, he said.
The Division of Student Affairs, Equity and Diversity held an internal meeting Wednesday to better know and understand the impact of the appeals courts decision. Steve Nakata, spokesman for the division, said it was his understanding there wasnt going to be much change.
I know the division is going o make sure our staff, particularly those that work in the residence halls, are trained on making sure they understand what the recent ruling means, he said. Student safety is always a paramount issue and we want to make sure we do everything we can to make students feel safe in residence halls, but at the same time we dont want to overstep our bounds. ASWSU President Brandon Scheller said he and Vice President Adam Fry-Pierce arent huge advocates of dorm patrols.
I don't think anybodys really excited about the idea of police patrolling the halls of residence halls, he said. Having police patrol the halls could also give students another excuse to move off-campus and retention rates are already low, he said.
Both Nakata and Gardner said police still have access to residence halls for emergencies.
It spells out our ability to maintain safety, and our policy will restrict us from being in the residence halls for no reason, so I think between the two we have the best of both worlds, Gardner said.