College Students' Legal Guide

The Only Guide College Students Need to Survive Legal Problems in College and Avoid a Criminal Record

Freedom. That is what most young adults feel the first time they are away from home when they are attending college. There are many problems that college students can encounter when away from home and this guide will help students and their parents navigate all the ways a student can get into trouble with the law and how to avoid it. We want to help you graduate college with a clean criminal record and this guide will help you do it!

The most important thing to remember: if you are encountered by the police and questioned, be respectful. This does not mean incriminate yourself; it means say “yes, officer” and “no, officer.” The minute you start saying “My tax dollars pay your salary” and “Do you know who I am?”, you are almost guaranteed to be arrested or charged with a crime.

Fake ID

Every year students find a way to get their hands on a fake ID that they can use to buy alcohol or gain access to the local bar. The police have designated officers who go to college towns and the local college hangouts to find and either arrest or summons students to court if they are found with a Fake ID.

The wise student has in his or her possession a fake ID which actually belongs to someone else. The ID will have another person’s picture and information on it. They will explain to the police that they do have an ID (show the correct ID to the police) and they also have “found” or are in possession of someone else’s ID because they intend on returning it or some version thereof. When speaking to the police, be respectful. This will be the difference between being arrested, summonsed to court be arraigned, or receiving a notice for a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing. A Clerk Magistrate’s hearing is a step before criminal charges and your case can be successfully resolved at the hearing and you will avoid having a criminal record.

There are also places where people under 21 will go and get their own picture on an out-of-state license with their own information. But somehow the license mistakenly lists a birth date that makes them 21 years of age. These licenses, or fake IDs, will serve their purpose until such time as the police take a look at it and then you will face charges but with less of a defense in court that you were “holding it for someone else who lost it”. The courts and RMV are much harder on people who have fake ID’s with their own picture on it.

If you are convicted of Possession of a Fake ID, you face a $200 fine and up to three months in jail. While it is most likely you would just receive a fine, you will now have a criminal record. You will also lose your driver’s license for 180 days! Do not go to court without an attorney! We are very successful at resolving cases to avoid a criminal record and loss of driver’s license.

Here’s the advice:

  1. Don’t have a fake ID.
  2. Assuming no one listened to #1, then, if and when, you are arrested or summonsed to court be smart and have an attorney with you on the first trip to the courthouse to try to stop the process at the initial hearing with a fine, community service and an alcohol program (mandated by courts sorry) and head the problem off before they send notice to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.
  3. Be aware that some police departments have policies that mandate that the officer transmit the information to the RMV when they arrest you, not just when you are convicted. If you have already been notified that your license will be suspended then contact us to appeal the ruling. The RMV, in its discretion, can allow you to keep your license or return your license after a partial suspension instead of the full 180 days.

Minor in Possession of Alcohol

It almost seems like a rite of passage to go away to college and drink alcohol. Unfortunately, if you are under 21, being in possession of alcohol is punishable by $150 fine and a 90-day driver’s license suspension. Most students focus on the license suspension as being the worst part; however, even if you are only ordered to pay a $150 fine, you now have a conviction on your record. Hiring an experienced attorney will avoid a conviction and most likely a criminal record. Do not try and handle a case like this on your own. A conviction will follow you for the rest of your life!

Here’s the advice:

  • Do not drink or have in your possession alcohol if you are under 21. If you do, a lot of times, the police will just say pour it out and let you be on your way. If that happens, just do it. Don’t give the police a hard time because if you do, they can arrest you and will likely charge you with a crime.

House Parties

House parties are a familiar pastime in college. Anybody who has ever had a party in college knows they can get out of hand and the police will often pay a visit if they get noise complaints.

If the police show up, they will often give the party hosts and their guests and opportunity to turn down the music or to shut down the party and send the guests home. If that happens, just do it! Do not lock the doors or turn off the lights and think the police will just go away or that the police will not realize people are inside the home. The police will just tell you to shut things down when they first come to the house; but, the police will ratchet things up if you make their lives difficult by trying to hide from them.

If the police have to come back to your house because they are still receiving noise complaints, it almost always ends with someone, usually the owner/renter of the house, facing criminal charges. The police are not there to make your life difficult. They just want the party to end without having to write a police report about what happened. The charge you would most likely face is for Providing Alcohol for a Minor because some guests will be under age 21 years old. If you knowingly supply, buy, or give a person under 21 years of age alcohol you can be charged with Procuring Alcohol for a Minor and face up to one year in jail if you are convicted.

Massachusetts also has what is known as social host law. You are a social host if you provide alcohol to your guest and are not in an employer/employee relationship. If a guest at your party has too much to drink, and then gets into an accident after leaving the party, the individual injured can sue the host of the party, meaning you, since you supplied the alcohol.

Here’s the advice:

  • Don’t host the party. Go to someone else’s house. Don’t buy someone under 21 years old alcohol; let someone else buy it for them.

Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol

Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs is quite common. In the news, there have been many stories of people snapchatting or livestreaming while they drive under the influence. This a terrible idea. First, never drink and drive. Second, never record yourself committing a crime.

In Massachusetts, you can be charged with operating under the influence of alcohol if you have Blood Alcohol of .08 or greater or your ability to operate a motor vehicle is diminished by alcohol. You can also be charged with operating under the influence of drugs if you are unable to operate a motor vehicle safely.

If you are stopped by the police, one of the first questions you will be asked is whether you have been drinking and how many drinks you have had. Answering yes will result in you being arrested. Even if you tell the police officer that you have only had one drink, you are going to be arrested.

If the officer suspects you have been drinking, he will ask you to step out of the vehicle and ask if you would perform field sobriety tests. Respectfully decline! All you have to do is say no. The officer cannot force you take them. Your failure of the tests, which is subjective to the officer’s opinion, will only reinforce his reason to arrest you.

Once the officer arrests you, he will Mirandize you. You have the right to remain silent and to an attorney. Invoke your rights! Do not make any statements. Nothing you say will help you avoid being arrested. At the police station, you will be asked routine booking questions which you will have to answer such as name, date of birth, and address. Do not answers questions about how much alcohol you had that night.

At the police station, you will be given the opportunity to take a breathalyzer test. Refuse the test! If you take the breathalyzer test and blow over .08, your license will be suspended for 30 days. If you refuse the breathalyzer test, your license will be suspended for a longer period of time depending on whether it is your first, second, third, fourth, or fifth refusal. If it is your first refusal and you are over 21, your license will be suspended for 180 days. If you are under 21, it will be suspended for 3 years.

Your ability to successfully defend against an OUI charge at trial is dramatically increased if you do not take the breathalyzer or field sobriety tests. Without field sobriety tests and breathalyzer results, all the police officer could testify to would be that you had red, glassy eyes and he could smell an odor of alcohol on you. The police write that in every report and testify to it at every trial. If you are found not guilty, we will file a motion requesting the judge return your driver’s license and if the motion is allowed, and it usually is, we can represent you at the RMV to request your license be reinstated even though it was suspended because of the breath test refusal. We have represented many clients who were found not guilty and then had their driver’s license reinstated by the RMV even though their license was still supposed to be suspended because they refused the breathalyzer test.

Here’s the advice:

  • Do not drink and drive. Do not get high and drive.
  • If you are stopped by the police, say no to the field sobriety tests and the breathalyzer test.
  • You do not have to make incriminating statements. Just because the police ask you how many drinks you have had, does not mean you have to answer.

Marijuana and Other Drugs

Many college students experiment with marijuana and other drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and opiates in middle school or high school but a lot of student also experiment or struggle with addiction in college.

In Massachusetts the marijuana laws are continuing to evolve. While marijuana is still illegal under federal law, Massachusetts law allows persons 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public and up to 10 ounces in their own home. It is also legal to grow up to six plants per person with a maximum of twelve pants per household. While possession and use of marijuana for persons 21 and over is legal, selling marijuana is not. You can and will be prosecuted for selling even small amounts of marijuana.

As a college student, if you are under 21, you are still subject to a civil citation for possession of marijuana. If you are over 21, possession is legal as long as it under one ounce in public and ten ounces in your own home. However, most colleges have strict policies regarding marijuana use so if you are living on campus you could be suspended or expelled for possessing or smoking marijuana in your dorm.

Drugs such as cocaine, opiates, heroin, ecstasy, and ketamine are illegal and you will be prosecuted if you possess them.

Here’s the advice:

  • If you want to smoke marijuana and are over 21, go to your friend’s house. Don’t smoke weed on campus.
  • If you are under 21, don’t smoke weed.
  • No matter your age, it is illegal to sell weed.
  • If you do get into trouble, contact us because we can help you. If you are arrested for a drug crime, then the police will read you your Miranda rights. You will be informed that you have the right to remain silent and to have an attorney represent you. Invoke your rights! Remain silent. Ask for a lawyer.

Rape or Consensual Sex

Allegations of Rape or Sexual Assault on college campuses can go one of two ways. A student can file a complaint internally with the college seeking disciplinary action against you, they could contact the police and seek criminal charges or they could do both.

We have represented countless college students charged with Rape after a night of partying. Often times both parties mutually engage in a sex act, but the next morning, or even a month or two later one of the parties alleges they were Raped because they were too intoxicated to consent.

A person is deemed incapable of consenting if they are too intoxicated, asleep, mentally disabled, or otherwise unable to give consent. Importantly, even if the person accused of Rape was intoxicated, they cannot use their own intoxication as a defense or to mitigate what happened.

Whether it is the college, most likely a Title IX investigator, or the police who want to talk to you, never make any statement about what happened until you talk to an attorney. If convicted of Rape, you face up to twenty years in state prison, will be required to register as a sex offender, and to wear a GPS bracelet while on probation. Nothing you say to the police will change their mind about whether you will face criminal charges. The best thing to do is hire an attorney immediately and try to get in front of the accusations.

If the Title IX investigator or campus police want to talk to you, respectfully decline to answer their questions. Anything you say to them could lead to criminal charges or to you being suspended or expelled from campus. The only thing to do if you are accused of Rape or Sexual Assault is contact an attorney immediately!

Here’s the advice:

  • Always avoid sexual contact if one person has ingested too much alcohol or is high on drugs. If there is even a question about whether a person has had too much to drink, do not engage in any sexual acts with them! If the police or school want to talk to you, contact an attorney immediately! Do not make any statements until you have talked to an attorney!

Sexting v. Child Pornography

Sexting is extremely common among teenagers and young adults. The law, however, has not caught up with technology. Now that you are 18 and in college sexting must be limited to individuals 18 years old or older. Most college students think child pornography involves young children but in Massachusetts any photos or images of a person under 18 years old engaged in a sex act or nude with a focus on the person’s genitals is considered child pornography. It does not matter that the person who took the image or video is your boyfriend or girlfriend.

If you request a person under 18 years old, take a photograph or video of themselves in a state of nudity or engaged in a sexual act, you can be charged with Production of Child Pornography which is punishable by not less than ten years in state prison nor more than twenty years in state prison.

If you forward the photograph or video to another person, you can be charged with Dissemination of Child Pornography and face not less than ten years nor more than twenty years in state prison.

If someone sends you the photograph or video without you requesting it, you view it, and keep it, then you can be charged with Possession of Child Pornography and face up to five years in state prison or 2.5 years in the house of correction.

Here’s the advice:

  • Never exchange sexually explicit images or videos with someone who is under 18 years old. Do not possess sexually explicit images or videos of someone who is under 18 years old. There are plenty of college students your age; sext with them instead!

Speeding Tickets and Other Traffic Citations

You can be issued a traffic citation for any number of reasons including speeding, marked lanes violation, failure to stop, failure to yield, invalid registration, uninsured vehicle, following too closely, failure to move over for an emergency vehicle, and illegally parking in a handicapped spot.

If you get a traffic citation, and the officer checked the box "all civil infractions" then you can appeal the ticket. First you will want to know the insurance consequences of paying the ticket so contact your insurance company and ask them. In Massachusetts, your insurance will increase if you pay the ticket so we always advise you to appeal it. In some states, your insurance will not be affected so if you are an out-of-state college student, your insurance may not increase if you pay the ticket.

If you decide to appeal the ticket, then on the back of the citation, there is a box to check which allows you to request a hearing before a Clerk Magistrate. After you check the box, sign and date the citation. Make a copy of the citation- front and back- then mail the citation to the address listed on the ticket along with the $25 fee. The citation must be mailed within 20 days of the date you received it. If you do not appeal within that time, then you cannot appeal your ticket!

A few weeks later, you will receive a notice from the court with the date and time of your hearing. Upon your receipt of the notice, contact us with the date and time of the hearing. We will discuss what happened and the best way to represent you at the Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing.

Here’s the advice:

  • Don’t get a traffic citation. In reality, almost everyone will get one (or several) at some point in their lives. Don’t just pay the ticket. Appeal the ticket and contact us to represent you.

Indecent Exposure

Many college students will have a night when they have had too much to drink and need to urinate outside. Depending on the circumstances you can be charged with Indecent Exposure and face up to six months in the house of correction.

Here’s the advice:

  • If the police interact with you, be respectful. If they tell you to move along, move along. In most cases, the police will tell you to just zip up and leave. If you are disrespectful to the police, expect to be arrested and charged.

Open and Gross Lewdness

Most college students do not have to worry about being charged with this type of crime. Not only do you have to expose your genitals, but you have to do in a way that causes someone shock or alarm. For example, if you see an attractive woman and start masturbating in front of her, you can be charged with Open and Gross Lewdness. This charge does not apply to drunk college students who urinate in public. If you are convicted of Open and Gross Lewdness, you face up to three years in state prison or two years in the house of correction.

Here’s the advice:

  • Do not masturbate in public or otherwise expose yourself to other people for the purpose of shocking them or alarming them.

Contact Us

At Sweeney & Associates, we understand people make mistakes and that college is a time for exploring and experimenting with new things. If you find yourself in an incriminating situation or think you may face criminal charges, contact us for a free consultation at (617) 300-0212 or

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