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University ‘amnesty’ policy does not immunize students from legal consequences

‘SUDPS cannot offer amnesty for illegal activity, especially activity that is egregious,’ says SUDPS spokesperson

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An April 7 University announcement notified students that if their belongings needed to be packed up after they left campus due to COVID-19, then they would have an opportunity to report potentially dangerous items in order to be granted “amnesty.” Failing to report such items, wrote Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole, could result in a Fundamental Standard violation. 

But packing staff hired by the University have been instructed to contact the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) if they come across any potentially hazardous items, including illegal drugs or a firearm, and the department “cannot offer amnesty for illegal activity,” according to SUDPS spokesperson Bill Larson. 

“It is possible that students could face legal consequences for violations of the law, especially those violations that are egregious,” Larson wrote. “Egregious violations could include something like large quantities of illegal drugs or possession of a firearm.”

SUDPS expects that “the university will evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis,” he said. Students who choose to report hazardous items “will likely experience fewer repercussions compared to those who choose to remain silent.” 

“Items that could pose harm could be legal — like needles used to inject prescribed medication — or they could be illegal and in violation of university policy if possessed on campus,” Larson wrote. “Examples include a firearm or illegally manufactured pills.”

The packing staff should notify SUDPS if they identify a potentially hazardous item “so that the item(s) can be handled safely and, if needed, disposed of in a safe manner,” Larson added.

SUDPS has not yet been made aware of any dangerous items in students’ rooms during the packing process, according to Larson. 

“The Department of Public Safety and Student Affairs are collaborating on the process for returning student belongings,” wrote Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris in an email to The Daily. “Student Affairs will provide more information on the process next week.” 

Harris did not address questions about the potential conflict between the stated “amnesty” policy and the possibility of legal repercussions. 

Campus newsletter The Fountain Hopper (FoHo) questioned the legitimacy of the University’s policy in April. 

“The legal status of such an ‘amnesty’ is totally unclear,” the FoHo stated, adding that it had contacted authorities about requirements under the Clery Act, a federal consumer protection law aimed at enhancing campus security and transparency. The Act requires Campus Security Authorities (CSAs) — which includes residential assistants, residence deans and campus safety officials — to report a broad range of crimes.

“Stanford may be required to report illicit items disclosed under its ‘amnesty’ policy to local law enforcement,” the FoHo reported in its next edition.

But the Clery Act does not require institutions “to report anything directly to local/county law enforcement,” according to Laura Egan, senior director of programs for the Clery Center, which provides institutions of higher education with Clery Act information and training in order to enhance campus safety.

“The Clery Act requires institutions to maintain statistics on reports of behavior that result in a disciplinary referral for liquor law, drug law, and weapons law violations,” Egan said.

She said university amnesty policies typically ensure that an incident does not result in a disciplinary referral, meaning that, in these cases, there would be “nothing to disclose within its Clery crime statistics.” 

FoHo Editor-in-Chief Ross Ewald ’20 told The Daily that by “local law enforcement,” FoHo was referring to SUDPS. 

Under the Clery Act and California law, only violent crimes, sexual assaults and hate crimes that occur on campus must be reported directly to SUDPS, according to Larson and reporting procedures outlined in Stanford’s 2019 Safety, Security and Fire Report. Violations related to alcohol, weapons and drugs — items that students may have in their rooms — are not always required to follow the same protocol. 

Under Stanford’s “amnesty” policy, however, packing staff may now be reporting these items to SUDPS. 

Update May 1, 9:40 p.m.: In an email to students sent after this article’s original publication, Brubaker-Cole wrote that for “egregious violations,” the University would “follow the same practices for these violations as we would at any other time: the Office of Student Conduct and the Department of Public Safety will be alerted, and these units will follow up on a case-by-case basis, out of concern for the health and well-being of our community.”

Danielle Echeverria contributed reporting.

Contact Georgia Rosenberg at georgiar ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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