Penn State RA Conducts Illegal Detention of Students

A Penn State resident assistant in a dormitory overheard students talking about alcohol. She illegally detained the occupants of the room until police arrived. The client was charged with Minor in Possession of Alcohol. At trial, judge suppressed evidence and found client not guilty.

The client was inside a University Park dormitory room on the Penn State Campus and was talking with friends about drinking. A resident assistant heard the conversation, knocked on the door, entered the room without permission, and observed alcohol in the room. The RA then required all occupants of the room to produce, and the RA told them that they could not leave until the Penn State police arrived. After the police arrived, they conducted a brief investigation and filed a summary citation of Underage Drinking under 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6308 for the possession of alcohol.

At the summary trial, Centre County criminal defense lawyer Jason S. Dunkle argued that the client’s constitutional rights had been violated when the RA and the police detained the client without having any reasonable suspicion to believe that the client had been involved in criminal activity. In order for an officer to detain a person for what is called an “investigative detention,” the officer must have reasonable suspicion to believe that the person was involved in criminal activity. Here, the RA heard people talking about alcohol but did not observe anyone in possession of or actually drinking any actual alcohol before entering the dorm room and preventing the students from leaving. While the RA had no legal authority to prohibit the students from leaving, the State College Underage Drinking lawyer argued that the RA’s acted as if she had legal authority to do so, and because her actions violated the client’s constitutional rights, all evidence found as a result of the unconstitutional detention must be suppressed.

The State College judge agreed with the criminal defense attorney’s argument that the detention was illegal and thereby granted suppression of evidence. The judge then found the client not guilty possession of alcohol by a minor. The experienced Penn State expungement lawyer then filed a petition with the Centre County court to have the charge expunged or removed from the client’s criminal history.