As college students we’re embarking on life on our own terms with no parents around to tell us what to do. Many times, that can be amazing — staying up late with your friends, being able to make whatever you want for breakfast, lunch and dinner — the opportunities are endless. However, when it comes to some of the more practical aspects of life as a young adult, we can be in the dark more than we probably should be. This is especially true in the case of knowing your legal rights.
Whether you get pulled over by a police officer or get a message flagged on Facebook, it’s imperative that young adults understand what their rights are, and how to make use of them in practical situations. Here are three legal standards that we think students should always know.
Fourth Amendment right to prevent unlawful search and seizure:
When you get pulled over by a police officer, this is the right to keep in mind. Even if you have absolutely nothing to hide, you are still allowed to refuse them the right to search your car. According to the Fourth Amendment, any government official must have probable cause before searching your person or your property. This includes your coat pockets, your car and your room in your apartment, among other things. Why is this important? Because you should know how to protect yourself, even if you believe the law enforcement officer is doing the right thing.
First Amendment right to freedom of speech:
If you’re a consistent tweeter or Facebook poster, you should remember this right, and specifically the limitations to it, before you post. According to the First Amendment, you have the right to freedom of speech. However, if there is documented proof of libel, slander, fighting words or obscenity that right can come into question in court. For instance, anything you post on social media is not privacy protected, and if those words are deemed to be incendiary or obscene enough, someone could take you to court and might have a reasonable case.
Property ownership and lease agreements:
One of the most common legally binding situations a student will encounter is when leasing a property off campus. When dealing with landlords, lease agreements and tenant laws and rights, it’s important to read the fine print before signing on the dotted line. According to the Office of the Texas Attorney General, the list of rights you have as a tenant in a home are as follows: The right to privacy, right to health and safety and the right to peace and quiet.
While these are essentially immutable, you must make sure the landlord you sign with doesn’t have loopholes or exemptions in the contract before you sign. If you don’t read the fine print, you may be at risk of not being able to leave your lease, or you may have to pay exorbitant fines in order to continue or transfer your lease.
There are obviously many more legal issues students can run into on-campus and off-campus during their collegiate years. Make sure to educate yourselves on your rights with the resources provided above, as well as by looking it up in the Texas Legal Guide at https://texaslegalguide.com/Main_Page. You can also reach out to the Baylor Law Center, which holds clinics in several different areas throughout the year. You can find more information at https://www.baylor.edu/law/index.php?id=941636.