Skip to main content

College Students: Here is what to do if the police show up at your door

By April 28, 2016April 6th, 2022No Comments

As a college student, living on your own in a new place for the very first time can be confusing and overwhelming.

Even though YOUR priorities might include juggling your studies while exercising your various social and creative freedoms, you are still expected to comply with the general law, as well as college policies.

So, it’s important that students understand the grounds for disciplinary action as well as the components and timelines involved with due process in order to avoid a violation.

That’s where attorney Shan Wu comes in with a new video series of tips to help college students just like you understand how the law works – especially when it pertains to on-campus activities.


Today’s college student defense tip is going to be about what to do when the police are at your door.

So here is what you do. You’re answering the door, knock knock. You look outside, there’s a police officer. You step outside and then close that door behind you and you say

“Officer, how may I help you?”

Why do you close that door behind you? Because if there is something called the plain view doctrine.

If the officer can see something amiss in that room, there may be a party going on and you do not know what your roommates are doing. You don’t have eyes behind your head.

If they see there is something wrong that is in their plain view, now they can come in, they can search, they can sieze, they may arrest. So you want to close that door behind you.

People ask:

“Should I ask the officer if they have a warrant?”

You can if you want, but I promise you that they won’t have one. If they had a warrant, they wouldn’t be asking you what are you doing, can we come in. They’d already be inside. That’s something you can set aside.

Dormitory rooms are a little bit different. Your RA gets to come in and you probably signed the house agreement which lets them in and look for certain things.

It’s a little different than confronting the regular police, but the rule of thumb in confronting the regular police is always be polite, non-confrontational… you’re looking to diffuse and neutralize the situation.

It’s not the time to show off your knowledge about the constitution.

More about your host: Shanlon “Shan” Wu has taken on cases involving colleges students accused of university conduct code violations and criminal charges such as drug possession, alcohol violations, assault, and sexual assault as well as university academic honor code violations such as cheating and plagiarism. He is passionate about educating individuals, in particular those currently enrolled in higher education, about their rights.

Questions about your college defense case?

Click here to get in touch with Shan Wu and the team at DC Student Defense.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

More posts by Shan Wu
Skip to content