College exposes you to a whole new world of people and ideas and experiences. It can also be your introduction to the unpleasant realities of adulthood … such as being accused of a crime.
Criminal charges are especially dangerous for college students. One incident can threaten your education or change the course of your life. If you ever find yourself in trouble with the law, bite the bullet and tell your parents. Or contact a lawyer yourself right away. Being proactive is your best hope for damage control.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets arrested
Society expects that college students will party and experiment, yet many behaviors associated with college life are still illegal. The criminal charges that college students most frequently face include:
Alcohol offenses – Minor in possession, open container, using a fake ID, drunk in public. Any of these seemingly minor transgressions can have serious repercussions for your college career and beyond.
DUI – Drivers over 21 are presumed “under the influence” at .08 blood-alcohol content. But drivers under age 21 are held to a lower threshold. You can lose your license for driving with any alcohol (.02 BAC) in your system.
Drug charges – At age 18, you are subject to the full force of the law for drug possession. Not just “hardcore” controlled substances like cocaine and heroin, but also recreational drugs like marijuana, Ecstasy or prescription pills. Jail or prison could be on the table, depending on the amount.
Theft and burglary – Many young adults are shocked to face burglary charges for stealing an item of low value. It becomes burglary when you enter someone’s dorm room, apartment or vehicle. Even a shoplifting charge can lead a theft conviction that could haunt you well beyond graduation.
Sex offenses – Sexual encounters can lead to sexual assault allegations when one party says it was not consensual. Sexting or sharing compromising photos over social media can go from “funny” to deadly serious pornography charges.
The severe extra consequences for college students
If you are 18 or older, you are still learning “adulting” but in the eyes of the law you are old enough for jail and other adult punishment. But as a college student, the criminal penalties may be the least of your worries:
Financial aid – Certain convictions, such as drugs, can make you ineligible for federal student loans and grants.
Scholarships – A criminal record can lead to ineligibility or rescinding of scholarship offers.
Extracurriculars – You may lose athletic eligibility or be barred from college clubs and activities
School discipline – Separate from court proceedings, the school may impose its own sanctions, including suspension or expulsion.
Career paths – Students with felony records or drug or theft convictions may be excluded from or kicked out of certain majors (medicine, law enforcement, finance, etc.)
Employment – Some criminal offenses must be disclosed on job applications. If it doesn’t automatically exclude you from consideration, it probably bumps you down the list of candidates.
Do not try to handle this on your own
The prospect of going to jail is terrifying to most people. The prospect of disappointing your parents can also be paralyzing. Those fears can lead to bad decisions or delayed action, with irreversible consequences.
Pleading guilty to an offense just to “make it go away” or to avoid jail can cause other problems down the road. For starters, you now have a criminal record; any future arrest will trigger escalated penalties (perhaps mandatory jail time). Secondly, that conviction – even though you sidestepped jail – could hamper employment and other facets of your life.
A defense lawyer can explore the pros and cons of your options so that you make informed decision that best protects your future.