criminal cases all over Texas, but my office and principal criminal defense practice
are in the Bryan/College Station area, home of Texas A&M University
and Blinn College. Between these two institutions, there are close to
65,000 (you read that right) students living and going to school here.
As you might imagine, young college students sometimes make the wrong
judgment calls and find themselves in trouble. That’s where I come in.
Over the past five years of my criminal defense practice, I have represented,
and continue to represent, hundreds of young college students. I do everything
I can ethically to help put these young students in the best position
I can as they go forward into their lives after college. Sometimes that
means getting their cases dismissed if possible, sometimes it means trying
their cases before a jury or judge, and sometimes it means negotiating
the best resolution that leads to an expunction or non-disclosure.
In the course of representing these young students, I have noticed very
obvious similarities or patterns to their cases. I mentioned this to a
parent recently and he asked me to send him suggestions he can share with
his son to help minimize the chances that his son gets in trouble while
at A&M. I shared with him my “top ten” ways for students
to stay out of trouble in Bryan/College Station while attending school
here. I am now sharing them with you.
Some of these cautions are common sense and most kids know them in theory.
Several of them are not intuitive and sometimes kids just don't know
how serious the consequences can be for what seems like minor conduct.
Some of these rules might be perceived as politically incorrect. I can
pretty much state without equivocation, however, that if a student follows
these suggestions, he or she will lessen significantly his or her chances
of jeopardizing their future while here in Bryan/College Station.
Here, then, are my top ten rules for getting out of college without being arrested:
1) Stay the hell out of Northgate.
Northgate is the bar and entertainment district adjacent to the A&M
campus and it is wildly popular with students, under-age and of-age. Almost
every time I speak with parents about the trouble their child has gotten
into, the conversation starts with "He was in Northgate...." There are several law enforcement agencies that patrol this district on
foot, in patrol cars, on bikes, and undercover (CSPD, TAMU PD, TABC, etc).
They are, to my mind, overly aggressive in targeting and arresting or
citing students for offenses ranging from public intoxication, minor in
possession/consumption, failure to identify to an officer, evading arrest,
and a host of other offenses. These law enforcement officers will stop
a person, either on foot or in a car, for the most minor traffic infractions
(failure to signal 100 feet before a turn, failure to signal a lane change,
seat belt violation, and so on), just to see if they smell alcohol on
the breath or the odor of marihuana emitting from a car window. They even
know the best vantage points in the parking garages to stage themselves
so that they can see into cars as they exit around last call and will
stop for any violation, or even if they just see a red solo cup in a car.
It is easy to get stopped in Northgate, so the best practice is to just
steer clear of the area entirely. If they can't, following the rest
of the top ten will minimize the chances of being arrested.
2) Do not carry a fake ID or someone else's ID.
If a student is stopped for any reason and presents a fake ID, he or she
is going to jail. Even if they provide the correct ID and an officer sees
that they have another ID in his or her wallet, they are going to jail.
They will charge this offense as a Class A misdemeanor, punishable up
to a year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine. I know that almost every student
in history has at some time had a fake ID, even one of the Bush daughters
at UT, but the College Station Police Department or TAMU PD or TABC will
arrest them and charge them with a serious misdemeanor for this common
student conduct. They don't handle these as Class C's anymore
even though there is a specific Class C offense for misrepresenting age
with a fake ID. I've even had some prosecutors suggest it could be
filed as a felony (that threat was made to me by a Lee County prosecutor
just the other day). The carrying of fake ID's, readily available
on the internet, is far more common that most parents realize. This also
applies even when the student borrows an older friend’s driver’s
license to get in to a bar.
3) Never drink and drive. Ever.
There are so many ways to avoid drinking and driving these days and no
one, including or especially students, has any excuse for doing so. It
is illegal for a minor to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol
in his or her system, so even one drink can lead to being arrested and
charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI). DUI is only a Class C
misdemeanor, but you will still be arrested for it and the consequences
can be pretty severe.
Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is a much more serious matter and will wreak havoc with kids' lives
for years. After arrest and 24-48 hours in jail, the accused intoxicated
driver can look forward to having an interlock "blow and go"
device in his or her car (which goes over very well on first dates), high
attorney's fees (if you hire a good one, like me), either a long probation
(reporting to a probation officer, no drinking or nightclubs at all, fines,
fees, community service), license suspensions, DPS license surcharges
in the thousands of dollars for the next three years, an SR-22 insurance
document that will ruin parents' insurance premiums, numerous visits
to court, and, almost certainly disciplinary action by the University.
And, in Texas, there is no deferred adjudication for DWI. Probation or
jail, a DWI is on your record for life. Putting all of that aside, DWI
is a dangerous crime that can result in serious injury or death. As a
prosecutor, I put a number of young students who drank and drove and killed
somebody (or maybe multiple victims) in prison. I hated doing it, but
I felt strongly that if kids realized that they were not immune to being
sent to prison because of their youth, or grades, or their upbringing,
that at least some would find another way to get home when drinking, perhaps
saving a life. I tell kids now in every case I represent that the only
difference between misdemeanor DWI and felony intoxication manslaughter
is that someone gets in the way and dies. Then, the conversation with
me would not be about the difficulty in finding a job, the license suspensions,
the court appearances, and the fines, but rather about how low a prison
sentence we can negotiate. DWI is a toxic crime these days and it is so
easy, with a little common sense and forethought, to avoid. I vigorously
defend DWI’s, but always take the opportunity to let my young clients
know the risks of drinking and driving.
4) If your friend is underage, don't give him or her a sip of your
You will go to jail. The offense is Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor and it
is a Class A misdemeanor. I have numerous cases in which a young student
is observed either on video or by an undercover TABC (Texas Alcohol and
Beverage Commission) or other law enforcement officer allowing an underage
friend to sip from his or her drink. It will get the person offering the
sip, underage or overage, arrested and the sipper cited for minor in consumption/possession.
5) Never have sex with a girl if she is drunk.
I cannot tell you how many of these cases I see every year. A young man
gets intoxicated with a girl and they have sex. The next morning, or even
a few days later, she reports having been sexually assaulted to the police.
The next thing you know, a detective is at your doorstep telling you that
he is investigating an allegation of
sexual assault. One of the many ways for there not to be consent in a sexual encounter
(thus, sexual assault) is for one of the persons involved, usually the
girl, to be too intoxicated to give legal consent. In many, many of these
cases, I have been able to shut down a criminal investigation without
charges (because it wasn’t really sexual assault), but there is
still a sexual assault offense report out there with a student's name
on it. And, you can only imagine how awful the consequences are if an
arrest is made. And, if you are convicted, life as you know it changes
forever (just try to get a job as a registered sex offender). Even if
the case is refused or dismissed and there are no criminal charges, the
University will almost certainly suspend or expel the accused student.
I've seen it happen a dozen times. In these times, a young man just
has to be very careful. Having said that, I would also advise a young
woman not to drink to excess to the extent that she is vulnerable to being
sexually assaulted. This may not be politically correct, but it is the
advice I will give my daughter when she goes off to college. And so my
position is perfectly clear, sexual assault on campuses in this country
is a serious problem, but we have cast the net so wide that less-than-criminal
conduct can land a student in serious, life-altering trouble. The best
way to avoid this kind of trouble is a responsible approach to drinking and sex.
6) Don't smoke pot.
It's everywhere on the A&M and Blinn campuses. Parents just don't
have a clue how prevalent it is. At some point, your child will be offered
pot. It will happen. I represent dozens of students every year for this
offense. Possession of any amount of
marihuana is a crime in Texas, usually a Class B misdemeanor, but any more than four ounces
and it's a felony. With the legalization of marihuana in several states
now, there is a growing feeling among kids that it is not serious. I tell
my clients that we can debate all we want about whether marihuana should
be legal and that it’s not as bad as alcohol, but the fact is that it
is illegal in Texas and it's not going to be legalized any time soon.
Until it is, you will still go to jail and face criminal prosecution.
Even for a couple of grams (in fact, most of my clients charged with possession
of marihuana possessed less than two grams). Possession of a grinder,
papers, a pipe, or a bong, will also get you arrested (or cited) and charged
with Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. And finally, baking pot into cookies
or brownies or candy, and I have cases right now involving all three,
turns a Class B misdemeanor into either a second or first degree felony
(that's 2-20 in prison or 5-99/life). It's just the way our laws
are written. Mushrooms, Kush, and K2 will also get you into a lot of trouble.
And don't get me started on LSD, ecstasy, and other trendy, designer
drugs made in someone's basement. And there is one last, and very
important, point to make about possessing marihuana as a student. Being
convicted of possession of marihuana can result in the denial of student
7) Be careful about the company you keep.
It sounds cliché, but it really does matter with whom you hang out.
I have had many cases involving the 2:00 a.m. Whataburger run with several
buddies in the car when the car is pulled over for speeding, another popular
pretext stop (I have had clients stopped for going 3 mph over the limit).
When the police flashers go on behind the car, someone in the car gets
rid of the pot or cocaine in their pocket by throwing it on the floorboard.
No one, of course, claims responsibility, and everyone goes to jail. It
really happens all the time. I recently had a client spend almost three
months in jail on a high bond because he was driving a car and his passenger
had a backpack with 28 grams of cocaine inside. The case against my client
was ultimately dismissed, but not until after he spent three months in
jail. This also holds true for being at a party where underage drinking
is taking place or pot is being smoked.
8) Never run from a police officer or lie to a police officer about your
identity or age.
I have many cases that started out as a Class C minor in possession and
ended up with a trip to jail because a student panicked and ran, or tried
to blend in to a crowd. It's a Class A misdemeanor to evade arrest
or detention. If the evading occurs in a vehicle, it is a third-degree
felony. I have seen students arrested and charged with this offense for
not stopping as soon as the officer thought he or she should have. Giving
an officer a fake name, or more commonly, a different year of birth, is
a Class B misdemeanor and off you go to jail. If approached by a police
officer, be cooperative and respectful at all times. There
is such a thing as an "attitude arrest." Never physically resist
a police officer attempting to arrest or search; that's resisting
arrest and it is a Class A misdemeanor, and prosecutors take it very seriously.
I have gotten breaks for many clients just by pointing out to prosecutors
how cooperative, honest, and respectful a client was.
9) Do not use Adderall, Vyvanse, or Concerta without a prescription.
These Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drugs contain amphetamine
and other controlled substances and it is a crime to possess any of them
without a prescription. At some point in every student's academic
experience, he or she will be offered someone else's Adderall, Vyvanse,
or Concerta and told that it will help with studying and focus. That's
probably true, but without a prescription, you will go to jail.
If you see an unlocked bike on campus, leave it alone.
It’s a “bait bike,” an unlocked bike planted by the University
Police Department with a GPS tracker installed. When it moves, the person
who moves it will immediately be arrested and charged with theft. I have
strong feelings about this anti-theft program as the only people it ever
seems to ensnare are really good kids making a bad judgment call late
at night with no intention of actually stealing the bike. A
theft charge can ruin a student’s future and I think this program is misguided.
But, these bikes are all over campus and taking one of them, even for
a short joyride, can result in disastrous consequences for a student.
Theft is not just any ordinary misdemeanor; it is a “crime of moral
turpitude” and can ruin a student’s future.
There you go. Adhering to these guidelines will dramatically reduce the
chances of a student being arrested and charged with a crime in Bryan/College
Station. Parents, take the time to go over these with your student and
you will not regret it. If you want reinforcement, give me a
call at my office at (979)-775-4100 and I will be happy to set up an appointment with your
student to go over these rules. As a father of a teenage girl, I know
that sometimes it’s better coming from someone other than a parent.
And, I’ll do it for free.