We posted here that statistics show that the majority of college student arrests relate to alcohol and drugs. Probably by far the most arrests for drugs by college students is for marijuana or pot possession. This is not surprising information to students or their parents. However, most student and parents have no idea what is involved in a drug arrest and criminal court case.
First, depending on the charge the student who is caught possessing a drug may or may not be physically arrested and brought to jail which would require bonding out of jail, etc. In some states for certain minor charges the student could be charged with a drug possession crime but simply given a paper requiring them to appear in court to answer to the charge. Sometimes the student or the parent may incorrectly believe if the student is not “arrested” then the charge is not criminal or not serious. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anytime a college student is required to appear in court it is a serious matter which could go wrong very quickly and impact the student’s future. Therefore, I recommend anytime a student is caught possessing drugs that he contact a criminal attorney.
After a drug arrest, the next step is court. Normally, a student will want to hire an attorney to represent them in court well before the first court hearing. It will likely be a few weeks between the drug possession incident and the first court date, permitting plenty of time to find an appropriate attorney. Court is confusing and intimidating even to adults and professionals and even more so for young college students. I would never recommend that a college student go to court by themselves without the assistance of an attorney. Many times a parent believes that they can go to court with their child and take care of everything and don’t need to waste money on an attorney. Again, a bad idea. For example, an attorney very familiar with criminal drug possession law may be able to get a drug charge thrown out before it ever sees the inside of a courtroom. Also, sometimes there is a technical defect in the charges which would again permit a dismissal, but again in this case an attorney would be required to recognize this defect and properly preserve the error and obtain the dismissal.
Lastly, there are a number of different ways to resolve a drug possession charge without requiring the student to plead guilty and putting a conviction on his permanent record. For example, many states provide short diversion programs (discussed in my last blog here) for drug possession charges; others have drug courts specifically designed for drug users which provide drug counseling and treatment in exchange for a dismissal of the charges. Different, more creative solutions for the student’s specific situation can possibly be worked out between the prosecutor and the student’s attorney.
The bottom line is a drug charge doesn’t necessarily have to ruin a student’s life and future, but is still serious and must be handled properly.