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COMMON LEGAL ISSUES FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS
Daniel McCarthy, Manley Burke
Life as a college student can often feel removed from the real world. Students can easily get so caught up in campus activities, studies and general college life that life some times does not seem to exist off campus. However, students need to remember that their actions can often follow them after graduation. What seems so common to a college student does not seem so common to many others.
With that said, here is a basic primer on some basic alcohol laws and the consequences for breaking the laws. I am using the statutes of Ohio here, but most states have similar laws in place. Please reference the laws in your state, or consult an attorney, to determine the applicable criminal consequences for you.
- Underage consumption, purchasing or possession of alcohol. In Ohio, the penalty for consumption, purchasing or possession of alcohol by anyone before their 21st birthday is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable up to six months imprisonment and/or a $1,000 fine.
- Providing alcohol to a minor. This too is a first-degree misdemeanor with penalties up to six months imprisonment and/or $1,000 fine.
- False identification. Possessing a false identification or displaying another person’s valid identification as your own is a first-degree misdemeanor. However, if the identification is used to purchase alcohol or enter an establishment that serves alcohol, the minimum fine is $250 and the person using the identification may have his or her driver’s license suspended for up to three years.
- Driving while intoxicated. Known as OVI in Ohio, the “legal limit” blood alcohol content is .08. The maximum penalty for OVI is six months imprisonment (minimum at least 3 days in jail), a $1,000 fine (minimum of $250) or both. Driving privileges are also lost for at least six months.
- Open container. In Ohio, it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in public. This varies greatly state to state. A common question about open containers is if it is illegal to have an open container, why are tailgates permitted before football games? Again, this law varies state to state. Further, there are time, place and manner restrictions that can be implemented. For example, an open container may be allowed in a campus parking lot on Homecoming, but not on a random Tuesday afternoon. The punishment in Ohio is a fine up to $150.
- Hazing. As readers of Fraternal Law know, almost every state has a specific law against hazing. Hazing is a fourth-degree misdemeanor in Ohio, punishable by up to 30 days imprisonment or a fine up to $250.
- Rioting and aggravated rioting. You can be charged with rioting if five or more persons are engaged in disorderly conduct (when one causes inconvenience, annoyance or alarm to another due to offensive conduct, or when one makes unreasonable noise in such a manner as to violate the peace and quiet of a neighborhood). Aggravated rioting occurs when violence is involved with rioting. Because only five people are necessary for “rioting,” it is very easy for a fight at a party or for an argument between rival chapters to be considered rioting.
In addition to the legal consequences listed above, most schools include clauses in their student handbooks about student behavior. Just because an incident occurs off campus does not mean the school may not also discipline a student for violating the student code of conduct. These are just several areas of the law that are good to keep in mind and to reinforce to students that their conduct can have very real impacts long after they leave campus.