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Arrested While in College? What Happens Next?

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

Ah, autumn. That time of year when leaves change, pumpkin-flavored foods proliferate, and college students become unruly. As you may have heard (and seen), Keene State College in New Hampshire was the site of injuries and arrests this weekend, when students attending various off-campus parties celebrating the annual pumpkin festival started throwing things, leading to tear gas and arrests.

College sometimes feels like a whole different universe than the rest of the world, but are the laws any different? What happens when you get arrested in college?

Here's what inquiring students need to know:

Your Arrest Timeline

If you're arrested while in college, events occur largely the same way they would if you weren't in college. After you're arrested, you'll be taken to jail, where you'll be booked and get to make that famous "one phone call" -- if your jurisdiction allows it.

While most states require that you're arraigned (formally accused of a crime) within a day or two of your arrest, you might be spending the weekend in jail if the next business day happens to be a Monday (or a long weekend in jail, if Monday happens to be a holiday).

Your Defense

If the crime you've been charged with involves drinking -- and in college, that's pretty likely -- then you might want to think about your defense. Voluntary intoxication (that's where you make the decision to drink a lot) can be used in some states to reduce a charge, but not to eliminate a criminal charge.

You'll also probably need a lawyer. One of your phone calls can be to a criminal defense lawyer (or to someone who can get you a lawyer), or if you can't afford a lawyer, then a public defender will be appointed at your arraignment.

One note on this topic: There seems to be a nasty myth out there that a public defender is something less than a "real lawyer." Public defenders are lawyers, and they're just as "real" as any other lawyer. Public defenders are often preferable to private defense attorneys in high-volume cases, such as those involving alcohol, because they're in court all the time (meaning they have a lot of experience) and they see the prosecutors quite often (meaning they might be able to get you a better plea deal).

Still, if you'd rather hire a private attorney, you can.

Other Consequences for College Students

Once your journey through the criminal justice system is complete -- or even while it's in progress -- you'll undoubtedly be enveloped by the swift hammer of university sanctions. Many of the same types of acts that lead to criminal charges, like harming others or destroying property, are violations of universities' codes of conduct.

Policies vary by university, but often students typically appear before a board composed of faculty members and/or other students. The school may or may not allow you to be represented by a lawyer or a non-lawyer student advocate (for example, at The Ohio State University, students can have non-lawyer advicates assist them, but the advocates can't speak; in the California State University system, however, attorneys might be allowed, depending on the charge).

Also, because sanctions for violating university policies aren't criminal sanctions, the standard of evidence is much lower than in a criminal trial. Sanctions can range from a reprimand (an official notation in your file that you violated the code of conduct) to expulsion from the university.

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