April 6, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Know your rights

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To the Editor:

Re: “Judicial Board Finds Cornell Police Improperly Searched Student for Marijuana,” News, March 31

I applaud the accused student, for his determination, and the University Hearing Board, for its willingness to see past what some may think is controversial and uphold this student’s basic liberties.

As a recent alumnus and a newly minted investigator tasked with overseeing incidents very similar to this one, I see first-hand the prevalence of stop-frisk-search street encounters. These form a large chunk of our annual case docket. Occasionally, our cases involve such flagrant violations of an individual’s right to privacy.

Not only did this CUPD officer lack the reasonable suspicion — or for that matter, a founded suspicion that criminality was afoot — as far as we know from the public record, he or she acted exclusively on the basis of a single previous violation by unrelated individuals in the vicinity. Even in the very most drug-prone locations of my city, that fact alone would never permit officers even to stop and question an individual without founded suspicion.

It is a common refrain that Cornell, being the private institution that it is, carries with it a loss of a degree of freedom that an individual has access to in the public sphere. Nevertheless, and our accused student’s affinity for carrying marijuana notwithstanding, liberties as essential as those enumerated in the Bill of Rights are not subject to forfeiture with every semester’s tuition payment.

I hope that the CUPD is sincere when it assures us that it “complies” with the Fourth Amendment and is up-to-date with recent case law. This episode certainly indicates otherwise. Let it be a lesson to other students getting shaken down by the law: You have rights, and people just might listen to you if you remind them.

Angel Rendon ’10