VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY POLICE ARE NOT STATE ACTORS FOR PURPOSE OF 4th AMENDMENT SEARCHES

The Pa Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Yim, Nos. 3118 and 3184 EDA of 2017, (Pa. Super. September 12, 2018), holding that the trial court committed no abuse of discretion or error of law in making its determination that Villanova University Police Officer were not state actors for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. 

“In the wake of an unprovoked, LSD-induced violent attack committed by Yim’s roommate and guests, who later required hospitalization for LSD overdose, Villanova University’s administration determined its duties to ensure student safety required it to ascertain whether LSD or other contraband that could make its way elsewhere on campus remained in the offenders’ dorm room. The University made this decision unilaterally, and it initiated a search of Yim’s dorm room in accordance with University regulations, without input, oversight, or assistance from Radnor Township Police.”

An “initial plain view search conducted by administrators and Villanova University’s Public Safety (“VUPS”) officers uncovered a grocery bag of what appeared to be professionally packaged and sealed marijuana, a scale, a large hypodermic needle on a desk, and a large sum of cash on a shelf above the desk. Only then did the University contact Radnor Township Police to inform them that an ongoing room search uncovered what appeared to be evidence of illegal drug possession.”

“Radnor police never participated in the search or directed the actions of the VUPS officers in completing their search.”

Yim filed a suppression motion, claiming that VUPS officers were de facto state actors, subject to the dictates of the Fourth Amendment, when they searched his dorm room. Suppression was denied and he filed this appeal.

The PA Superior Court agreed with the trial court, because the present facts demonstrate[d] nothing more than the University’s conveyance of privately obtained evidence to police. As such, the University’s search is not attributable to the state on this basis.

The Court distinguished Appellant’s case with other, similar cases where the PA legislature had delegated to the respective campus police the very powers which the municipal police forces exercised. The Court concluded that the campus police in those cases were “endowed by the state with powers and functions governmental in nature” and were, therefore, state actors. In contrast, the Court in Yim noted that the “powers vested unto VUPS officers were not tantamount to those within the exclusive prerogative of the state. Instead, they derived from the University and were limited in scope relative to municipal police powers.”

Accordingly, the Court concluded that the trial court “committed no abuse of discretion or error of law in making its determination that VUPS officers were not state actors for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.”

CASE LINK:

http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/Opinion%20%20Affirmed%20%2010369612241933886.pdf?cb=1

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