As a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, I defend students arrested by college or university police on criminal charges. Clients are often surprised to learn that campus police – or public safety officers – are limited by Massachusetts state law from many law enforcement duties of regular city and state police officers. This blog will discuss several important factors that an experienced criminal defense attorney would consider when litigating a campus police search and arrest.
College or university police officers are appointed as special State officers under a Massachusetts statute (G.L. c. 22C, § 63) that grants them the same authority to make arrests as regular police officers for any criminal offense within their particular jurisdiction. But although students have more limited rights to privacy because of the college’s interest in keeping the community safe, this does not necessarily translate into more police power for campus police. In fact, the courts have consistently held that campus police officers are more restricted in making arrests and searching a student’s dorm room or possessions.
A good example of the statutory limits on a campus officer’s search and arrest authority is discussed in a case that involved Boston University police officers situated outside the University’s property and near an interstate highway. In Commonwealth v. Hernandez, two BU officers observed Hernandez pumping gas on a public road near an interstate highway outside the university grounds, and decided to check his registration. When the officers discovered that an arrest warrant was issued for Hernandez on a misdemeanor, they stopped and arrested Hernandez and conducted an inventory search of his vehicle. The officers discovered evidence of drug possession and distribution. Hernandez moved to suppress the evidence discovered in his vehicle, and the trial judge excluded them from admission.