You have spent a lot of money to put yourself through college, all with the hopes that a college degree will help you find a good job. But all that can be jeopardized if you have a criminal conviction on your record. Here are a few points to remember about our criminal justice system to help you avoid trouble . . . before it starts.
Minor in Possession of Alcohol ( MIP ): It seems like everyone drinks a little in college. Nevertheless, it is a crime in Washington to drink unless you are 21 years old. When an officer writes a ticket for MIP to a college student, usually there is some sort of aggravating circumstances. For example the student is rowdy or causing a disturbance, the student is walking down the street with an open container, or the student is trespassing on the property of neighbors. To avoid the MIP ticket it is best to be quiet and low key.
Marijuana Charges: As with MIP charges, the police don’t seem to be looking for people to cite for marijuana possession. The cases that criminal defense lawyers see are instances where the defendant is smoking in public, or in a dorm room, or growing the plant near an open window. Remember that most police officers were against I-502 from the start, and they will be quick to cite a college student (under age 21) that they see flouting the law.
Domestic Violence: To most college students the phrase “domestic violence” evokes images of middle-aged man in an A-line tee. However, domestic violence includes any harmful or offensive touching between intimate partners, family members, or even roommates. Domestic violence even includes threats of violence or damage to property. Washington state law encourages law enforcement to make arrests. Even if no charges are filed, a domestic violence arrest record can limit a person’s career opportunities in certain fields. It is important to remember that what you view as a “private matter” can quickly turn into a night in jail. Washington domestic violence laws often come as a surprise to international students that are unfamiliar with U.S. laws.
Sexual Assault: Getting arrested for rape is a pretty obvious career killer, and avoiding the charge seems to be pretty much a “no brainer.” However, it is surprising how many college students think it is o.k. to take advantage of a student who has had too much to drink. The standard that WSU seems to use is that if the person is not o.k. to drive, then they do not have the capacity to consent to sexual relations. While this is not the precise legal standard, it is probably a good rule of thumb for avoiding trouble.
Shoplifting: Shoplifting is something we associate more commonly with juveniles or perhaps the down and out. However, there is more to it. Shoplifters are often people from middle class backgrounds (of all ages) who are suffering from depression. When a person is away from home for the first time, and away from their support system and routine, they often struggle with their sense of identity, and can end up indulging in irrational acts like shoplifting. Unlike an MIP charge, theft can often look really bad on a person’s record. It is best for a college student to seek help from a counselor when they first find themselves struggling. Most universities have good services for people who need the help of a counselor or psychologist.
Reckless Driving: There must be something about that 5 hour drive from Seattle that makes a college student want to drive 105 mph. However, there is an unwritten rule that if you are going over 100 mph that you will face a charge of reckless driving and not just a speeding ticket. It might seem like the highways of Grant County and Adams County are totally empty. However, the Washington State Patrol is just waiting to catch you. You will need to control your speed if you don’t want to spend all your money on lawyers and high-risk insurance.
Assault: In high school, school administrators handle fist fights in-house. Rather than call the police, the principal will just suspend you or maybe just give you a detention. It is different in college – an assault will usually lead to criminal charges. Keep your cool. Think of it as good practice. When you find a job, your employer won’t put up with schoolyard fist-to-cuffs either.
Malicious Mischief (Vandalism): When a college student is charged with malicious mischief, it usually starts off as a “prank.” Under Washington law, malicious mischief is defined as “knowingly and maliciously causing damage to the property of another.” It is not a defense that the damage was intended as a “good natured” prank or you thought that it would be taken as a joke.
Trespass: Although it is not real common, college students sometime find themselves charged with trespass. Criminal defense lawyers often see college students sneaking on to the college football field at night, or sneaking into the pool when it is closed. Such antics are common place in teen movies, and such an adventure seems pretty harmless. In real life, you may be charged with trespass first degree or second degree.
Driving Under The Influence: The legal limit is .o8, right? Well it is not so simple. If you are under 21, your can be charged with Minor Operating a Motor Vehicle over .02. Also, marijuana DUI charges are more and more common, and if you are under 21 it is illegal to have any THC in your system.
Driving While Suspended: A driving while suspended charge happens like so: You drive too fast, you get a big ticket, your insurance rates go up, and you can’t afford insurance, then you get a huge ticket for driving without insurance, then you owe the court massive fines that you don’t pay, and so DOL suspends your license. However, DOL sends the suspension notice to your parents on the westside, and so you never know your suspended. Until you are out with some friends, and you get pulled over for broken taillight, and the officer runs a license check on you, and then you are in handcuffs.
In conclusion, it is best to avoid problems before they happen by understanding how these criminal charges occur, and what sort of behaviors will draw the attention of the police. Next week we will talk about what happens if you do have a record and you are applying for a job.
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