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The Dartmouth
May 28, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

N.H. high court OKs room searches

The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Friday that Dartmouth Safety and Security Officers are not acting as agents of the state when they turn contraband found in students' rooms over to the police.

The Court overruled a decision by the Lebanon District Court, which ruled that Dartmouth violated the 4th Amendment rights of Adam Nemser '01 by handing confiscated marijuana over to the Hanover Police Department.

The drug seizure -- which occurred while current Thayer student Nemser was a Dartmouth undergraduate -- was part of longstanding College policy that will not be altered as a result of the Court's ruling, said Daniel Nelson, senior associate dean of the College.

Nelson refused to comment on the specifics of the case, but he said that Safety and Security officers often happen by chance on illegal drugs when students lock themselves out of their rooms and ask to be let back in.

Dartmouth turns the drugs over to the police but does not provide them with any other information, Nelson said.

Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone explained that his officers must obtain a warrant in order to have access to information about the origin of the drugs.

The Court took this as evidence that Safety and Security and the Hanover Police Department are two separate entities -- and that Dartmouth, as a private institution, is not violating constitutional prohibitions on unreasonable search and seizure, Giaccone said.

"Safety and Security Officers are not agents of the state. They don't have power of arrest, they don't have control over the Hanover Police in any way," he said.

Neither Nemser nor his lawyers could be reached for comment.

Nelson criticized a Valley News article that he said misrepresented the basic issues at stake in the case, he said.

"A reader would be led to the erroneous conclusion that the issues in the case were about Dartmouth's prerogative to search student rooms," he said.

In fact, Safety and Security does just what its name implies, Nelson said, and only searches students' rooms in the rarest of circumstances, when they believe a student may be posing a threat to the rest of the campus, for instance, by possessing an dangerous weapon.

"As a matter of practice and policy, Dartmouth does not randomly or arbitrarily search student rooms," Nelson said. "Dartmouth doesn't go randomly throwing open student doors, peering under window shades, stuff like that."