Starting your career as a college student is exciting. A student who walks onto a college campus for the first time takes a step into a new world. By meeting new people, learning new things, and living away from home for the first time, college students embark on the ultimate journey of self-discovery. But college opportunities don’t come without potential pitfalls. Freedom includes the ability to make any choice available- including a bad one. Sometimes college students find themselves facing serious legal or administrative consequences based on mistakes or errors in judgment.
Does the college experience bring with it predictable types of accusations for students? Below is a list of charges that our law office handles that we may have seen a time or two before:
Drug charges can include possession of street drugs (cocaine, MDMA) or possession of pharmaceuticals (Xanax, Oxycontin) without a valid prescription. Delivery of a controlled substance, which includes the act of giving drugs to others for free, is a more serious crime. Getting caught with certain drug “accessories” like a glass pipe or ring baggies can lead to paraphernalia charges.
DUI in Florida is when a person drives or controls a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the extent their normal faculties are impaired OR while having an unlawful alcohol level in their blood or breath. DUI convictions in Florida come with mandatory penalties including license suspension, community service hours, and a substance abuse evaluation. The absence of a robust public transportation system in the Tampa Bay area and the propensity of college students to feel invincible contribute to the large number of DUI charges here.
Like DUI, there are other driving behaviors that are illegal. Even civil infractions or non-moving violations can result in the suspension of a driver’s license if not addressed in an appropriate manner. Driving on a suspended or revoked license (DWLS) is a crime if the driver knew of the license status. Reckless driving is also a crime that requires a court appearance and carries with it the possibility of jail time. While traffic violations may not sound serious, they can have serious consequences if not addressed properly by an experienced attorney.
Most theft crimes are charged as petit theft or grand theft, with $1,000 as the statutory dividing line. Theft includes stealing or borrowing without permission. Property crimes include criminal mischief (Florida’s term for vandalism), burglary, and even arson. Potential penalties for these crimes vary widely, as do the strategies for adequately resolving these accusations.
These types of accusations carry with them stigma and the potential for life-changing punishment. Sex crimes include exposure of sexual organs, sexual battery (Florida’s term for rape), and possession or transmission of child pornography. Issues of consent, intoxication, and digital evidence are common in college cases. In these cases, it is especially important to secure legal counsel early in the process.
The Greek community and sports teams are two institutions on campus in which membership has privileges. The bonds shared between sisters, brothers, and teammates can be strong and life-long. These organizations sometimes require a buy-in from new members that is strictly an inside process. Sometimes hazing exists at the intersection of tradition and abuse. Fla. Section 1006.63 defines hazing as any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical safety of students. The State Attorney’s Office is not afraid to file charges when college antics cross the line into criminal activity.
Certain college behaviors, even if they have become somewhat normalized, run afoul of Florida criminal statutes. Sometimes such behavior results in an unexpected and serious felony charge. Being accused of or being charged with a felony raises the stakes above citations or misdemeanors. Even the most basic felony charge carries with it possible prison time with the Florida Department of Corrections. Being arrested or accused of a felony can have consequences when it comes time to apply for a job or graduate school.
Some “surprise” felonies charges that college students face include:
When college students have been accused of committing a crime, the specter of alcohol is often lurking nearby. The infamous social lubricant certainly plays a part in countless judgment errors among young adults. The temptation to blame bad behavior on alcohol is always there, but “I didn’t mean to do it, I was just drunk” will NOT work if played as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Florida Statute 775.051 explains that voluntary intoxication resulting from the consumption of alcohol or drugs is not a defense to criminal charges. If you have been accused or charged with a crime as a college student, an experienced attorney can help you address the “alcohol factor” when it comes to defending various charges.
College students need to be aware of consequences beyond those that are decided in a courtroom. If a university becomes aware of a student’s criminal arrest, that institution may seek disciplinary action outside of the criminal justice system. The process can be quite different from a criminal case. The student may be called into an academic hearing based on the accusation. The student may face suspension or expulsion from the school. Our firm can speak to your academic advisors and prepare you for the administrative hearings.
Every university has its own Student Code of Conduct, which defines prohibited behavior while on campus or enrolled as a student. It also explains the penalties in the case of a violation. Violations of the Student Code of Conduct, even if they happen off campus, are typically prosecuted by the Dean of Students for that institution.
Being accused of a crime as a university student could lead to several negative outcomes. In addition to affecting your criminal record, it can also harshly impact your education. Attending court proceedings, performing community service hours, and serving jail time can result in missed classes. The predictable drop in academic performance can affect a student’s ability to hold on to scholarships (like Bright Futures scholarships, as explained in Fla. Statute 1009.53). If you get convicted of a crime, even the Federal Government may prevent you from receiving financial aid for future academic pursuits.
According to the State University System, there are 12 state universities in the state of Florida. If you include state colleges or community colleges, that number goes up even higher. Each college or university has thousands of students starting each semester, which leaves room for a lot of good interactions as well as bad. As a student, it is vital to have an understanding of the university’s set Student Code of Conduct, and what happens if there are violations. It is also helpful to be aware of the different contacts on your personal campus in case of an emergency or if there has been a crime committed. The Tampa Bay area is home to several colleges and universities including:
HCC has over a dozen campuses throughout Hillsborough County, including those across Dale Mabry from Raymond James Stadium and in Ybor City. Founded in, HCC serves over 50,000 students annually. The HCC campus safety website can be found here.
USF has campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and in Sarasota-Manatee, each with its own police department. The school has roughly 50,000 students. The USF student health and safety website can be found here.
UT has a downtown campus along the western bank of the Hillsborough River. A private university, the University of Tampa is home to just over 10,000 students from all over the country and all over the world. UT has a department of campus safety but not its own law enforcement agency. UT campus safety information can be found here.
If you are a college student who has been accused of a crime—or the parent of a college student who has been charged with a crime—it is important to seek the advice of an experienced Tampa criminal defense lawyer. Joel Elsea and his team have vast experience in Florida criminal law and can effectively represent you or a loved one. In the time that you or a loved one needs an advocate the most, Stetson Law graduate and former Hillsborough County prosecutor Joel Elsea is ready to defend you. Don’t let a college mistake define your future. Call (813) 451-8583 to schedule your free consultation with an attorney today.