Know the laws before you make mistakes

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

Sara Ganim
August 19, 2010 11:25am EDT
UNIVERSITY PARK — About 4,000 students every year get more from their time at Penn State than just a diploma.
They leave with a notation of discipline on their transcript — often accompanied by a criminal record — that can haunt them as they apply for jobs, apartments, loans or grad school.
Some of those co-eds are even worse off. Their education gets derailed before they get their degrees by jail or disciplinary expulsion.
The office of judicial affairs works with local police, and often hands down a sentence separate from the court of law, and students who get into trouble often get a double whammy.
So, it’s a good idea to know the laws and the consequences before a good time turns into hard time.
Most people charged with lesser offenses, such as misdemeanors for DUI, simple assault, harassment or theft, are eligible for a probationary program called ARD — Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition.
If you complete the program, which lasts about a year, you can apply to have the charge wiped from your record.
But your academic record can still suffer. Punishments from the Office of Judicial Affairs can range from a warning or mandated counseling to suspension and expulsion.
For more serious crimes, students facing criminal charges could spend time on court probation, in county jail, or even at a state prison.
And don’t forget — just be cause a charge was expunged from your record, it doesn’t mean it never happened. News media routinely report court proceedings, and once something is on the Internet, it never goes away.
One quick search will unearth your past for anyone curious enough to Google your name.
Here’s what you can expect:
DUI: Most first-time DUI offenders are eligible for ARD. If you don’t qualify for ARD, or don’t complete the program, you could get a mandatory 72 hours in jail, depending on your blood alcohol level.
If you get ARD and are charged with DUI again within 10 years, that first DUI charge will count against you when you are sentenced. The sentence for a second DUI is five to 90 days in jail.
Plus, for even your first DUI arrest, the fines can run into the thousands of dollars, and you can expect to lose your driver’s license for any where from 30 days to 18 months.
UNDERAGE DRINKING AND OTHER SUMMARY OFFENSES: Summary citations are sort of like traffic tickets. They carry a fine and no jail time, but a judge can impose community service or counseling as part of a sentence.
Urinating in public, acting disorderly, being drunk in public and drinking underage can all get you fines, some up to $300.
In 2008, state law changed to allow summary citations to be expunged from your record after five years — with a catch: You can only have one. Otherwise they stick to your record just like any other crime.
FIGHTING: Bad temper? Keep your fists to yourself or you could be looking at hard jail time for this crime.
Causing serious bodily injury to someone is aggravated assault and could land you behind bars for three years to 20 years.
For simple assault, a less serious offense, you would probably get probation, or up to a month in county jail.
Many cases where a single punch is thrown are reduced to harassment citations that result in fines, or if the victim agrees, ARD.
DRUGS: From big-time dealing to passing a joint to a friend, having drugs on a college campus is a serious crime.
Cases of simply possessing personal amounts of marijuana, or a marijuana pipe usually end with ARD or probation.
But if you’re caught dealing drugs — even passing a joint to a friend — you’ll be charged with a felony, and if you take the case to trial, a judge could sentence you to a mandatory two years in state prison under a state law passed to discourage dealing near schools.
The law establishing tougher penalties for selling in school zones was written to punish people pedaling near kids, but it also includes universities. Most of downtown State College and all of the University Park campus are in a school zone.
Outside the school zone, selling less than 2.5 grams of cocaine or between two and 10 pounds of marijuana can have you eating jail food for at least a year while contemplating a $5,000 fine.
Beware, college students often get caught up in drug rings that span several states, with ring leaders who, if caught, are looking at decades in the slammer.
BURGLARY: It might seem like a cool prank to steal the deer heads from your rival frat. But breaking and entering is a felony that can send you to the slammer for one to two years if someone is home.
That also means that if you get too drunk, forget where you live and stumble into a family’s home, you’re looking at hard jail time.
Entering a home when no one is there means a minimum six months in the county jail.
If you’re lucky you can bargain that down to a criminal trespass charge, but that will still taint your record for future employers and landlords.
SEXUAL ASSAULT: Most sexual assaults on campus happen between acquaintances who meet through friends or at parties.
Many times, the defendants say alcohol was involved and they can’t remember what happened or they believe the sex was consensual.
Be aware that, under state law, an intoxicated woman cannot legally give consent. In 2006, a 22-year-old student was sentenced to three to six years in state prison for a sexual assault that happened after he says he blacked out. Many other cases end with plea agreements that still call for county jail time, and charge of indecent assault or aggravated indecent assault on your record. Those don’t look good on resumes.
STALKING: Recognize that the relationship is over and don’t have any more contact after being told no.
Stalking charges can result in probation. But if you get caught a second time, even if it is not the same victim, the crime becomes a felony and will result in a minimum of 90 days in jail.
You’ll also be required to attend months of classes to change your behavior — more time and money lost.
THEFT: Low on toothpaste and cash? Don’t steal. Most stores downtown are equipped with surveillance cameras to catch you in the act.
A first offense could end up as a summary charge, but a second retail theft charge will land you on probation, and a third could mean jail time.
Same goes for stray books in the library. Many can be tracked by the serial number, and if they are tracked back to you, it can mean trouble. The more expensive the item, the more severe the sentence.
Find a credit card that’s not yours?
Swipe it in the ATM and you can count on probation or jail time, depending on how much you steal. Up to $2,000 will get you a month behind bars.
FAKE ID: Dying to get into a bar underage? Try that in State College — where most bars are equipped with bar-code scanners — and you’re likely to get slapped with a charge of giving false information.
If you’re lucky, police will cite you with a summary, but they can charge you with a misdemeanor resulting in probation.
If you’re caught making or selling a fake ID, expect a misdemeanor charge and probation.
RIOT: Think twice before you climb a telephone poll to celebrate that Penn State win.
Most of the students charged with rioting after the football team’s 2008 win over Ohio State got a choice: Spend 30 days in jail and admit to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct, or get a sentence of probation and live with a felony record for the rest of your life.
VANDALISM: Punching a hole in a wall or pulling the fire alarm as a prank can land you on court supervision with a hefty bill of restitution. Most people charged with this crime never see a jail cell, but end up working a lot of hours to pay for damage.
CHEATING: Punishment for cheating, according to Penn State university code, can range from a warning to removal from a program. Cheating can be plagiarism, fabrication of information, facilitation of acts of academic dishonesty by others, unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, and tampering with the academic work of other students.


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