College Student Legal Resource Page – Michigan
College Student Legal Resource Page.
Written by a former college student for current college students.
Criminal Law 101.
This page will give you a basic understanding of the American legal system and your Constitutional Rights, including your Miranda Rights and Miranda Warnings. If you are reading this you may have already been arrested or questioned by the police. Don't worry. There have been very few clients we have not been able to help over the past twenty five years. There is a lot of advice on these pages. It is yours for free. All we ask in return, is that should you need a lawyer – give us a chance to interview for the job.
You Have the Most to Lose.
College students have the most to lose, with your whole life and professional career ahead of you. I was a college student. I know life is hectic and difficult. You are at far from home and loved ones, in an environment with crazy and unreasonable demands. You somehow balance schoolwork, friends, job, money, and maybe a social life, much like a high wire trapeze artist. Legal troubles upset the delicate balance. Being investigated or accused of a criminal charge is very frightening. The law doesn't give you much slack.
Protect yourself. Understand the your rights. Know when to talk and when to say nothing. Be proactive by keeping quiet in incriminating situations. Any drug conviction makes you ineligible for financial aid, such as Use of Marijuana, Possession of Marijuana, Use of Cocaine. A drug conviction automatically suspends your driver's license for six months even for a first offense.
Remain Silent Always.
If you are being investigated, it is important to REMAIN SILENT and DON'T TALK. Your words will convict you. Worse, what the cop thought you said will be used to convict you! Most police interviews are not taped (hmm. I wonder why…).
College students are usually convicted by their own words. They naively think the cop will go lighter on them if they 'fess up.' This is WRONG THINKING! Here is some guidance that will give you a basic understanding of the legal system and the legal rights you didn't abandon at the schoolhouse doors.
Criminal Law 101.
Yes, we watch "Cops." By the way: it's a TV show. The cops always read the suspects their rights – it makes for good TV. Now the reality check: in real life it doesn't happen that way. Miranda warnings don't have to be given until you are "arrested" which has a much different meaning then you think. When in doubt – remain silent. Usually you do not even have to give your name or ID unless you choose to. Bluntly, shut up and keep quiet. It is very bad to talk before Miranda warnings, but especially bad after your rights are read.
By the time the cops read you your rights its too late.
You will be told that if you talk (or cooperate) it will help you. Believe us – it won't. You may be told you won't be arrested if you cooperate. The cop was probably not planning to arrest you anyway! And, this is small comfort when the cops arrest you a couple days later based on your confession or statement. A criminal conviction can ruin your school choices, career, financial aid, and more.
Your First Court Appearance.
If you are charged with a crime or given a written criminal citation, this is serious business. Do not ignore it. Make sure you contact the court on the citation and get a court date. Then seek help. Don't go to court unprepared. In some courts we have witnesses students going to jail because they didn't know they were supposed to bring $300 in cash bond money.
Bring Cash. The court system is about 20 years behind the times. Most do not accept debit cards, credit cards or checks. Bond money must usually be cash.
Plead NOT Guilty at your first court appearance. WE KNOW, this goes against logic and common sense, especially when you lived at home denying something made things worse. Do it anyway. This is how the American justice system works. By pleading NOT guilty, you allow a seasoned criminal defense lawyer the opportunity to try to get the criminal charges reduced, dismissed, or the penalties lessened. See our Top Ten Awesome Reasons to plead NOT GUILTY below:
The Top Ten Awesome Reasons to Plead NOT Guilty.
A smart student pleads not guilty.
Pleading "not guilty" doesn't mean you deny you did anything; it just means you are not ready to admit you did it.
Usually by the time the police read your rights – it's too late.
You will NOT be treated worse (or jailed) for pleading not guilty.
Pleading not guilty gives your lawyer a chance to make sure the government has a solid case.
Your lawyer can make sure the cops didn't violate your rights.
A lawyer can try to get the charge thrown out or reduced.
You keep the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Sex with another Student.
Are you under investigation for a sex offense? False allegations of sexual abuse can ruin your life. If you are convicted of a sex crime, the conviction will have long-term effects and severe penalties. You face guaranteed jail time or worse, years in prison, and you will have to register as a sex offender for years on a sex offender list.
The stigma associated with the words "sex offender" can ruin your reputation, your career, and severely negatively impact your family. The justice system is tough on sex offenders, and if convicted, you will likely serve the maximum time.
If you are accused of a sex crime with a fellow student, please see our Sex Crimes page BEFORE you speak to anyone (even your roommate)! Do not make the foolish mistake of talking with police thinking it will improve the situation – it almost never does. What the cop thought you said WILL be used against you. Say nothing and call a lawyer fast. It well worth the investment to a ask for legal advice that could save your career and rest of your life.
It might seem like an indecent exposure citation is no big deal. So what. You were caught flashing your boobs, messing around with your girlfriend/boyfriend, or taking a leak in public. No big deal right? — this is WRONG THINKING.
Read our page Indecent Exposure. This is NOT a minor offense and is punishable by up to a year in the county jail. We have heard of actual stories where qualified applicants have been denied jobs at daycare centers or driving a school bus because of an indecent exposure conviction from years earlier.
An indecent exposure conviction will probably keep you from being able to volunteer at your church nursery or camp. Call an experienced indecent exposure defense attorney right away. You are playing with fire.
Minor in Possession.
The most common college aged criminal charge and the least understood. Minor in possession of alcohol or "MIP" is a criminal offense known as a misdemeanor. This conviction is forever placed in your criminal history file and on your driver's license. The penalties increase for a second or third conviction, with jail time and mandatory driver's license suspensions.
Why Hire a Lawyer?
Here is why we think you should hire an attorney: A student with zero (Ø) experience in the legal system who represents themselves is a person playing chess, except: (a) you are playing a Grand Chess Master; (b) you do not know the rules; and (c) you are blindfolded! Overstated? Perhaps…and then again maybe not. Call us. We can help.
Other Topics on This Page:
- Your Rights in Campus Housing: Search and Seizure Issues.
- Your Fifth Amendment Right against Self-Incrimination.
- First Time Offenders: MIP and Drug Crimes, Diversion Programs, Youthful Offenders, Trainee Status
Other pages you may want to read in all of your "free time":
- Indecent Exposure in Michigan
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol
- Marijuana Crimes and Offenses
- Is this Campus Cop really a Cop?
- Cell Phone Texting Ban
- Criminal Law 101.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"
-Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The 4th Amendment states that people, including college students, have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in their homes. Courts have determined that a college dorm room or campus apartment is a student's 'home', and thus it is also constitutionally protected and must be free from unreasonable search and seizures. Just because you moved into a college dorm room does not mean you gave up your constitutional rights.
Although you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your dorm room, there are some situations where a warrantless search by a college or university Administrator or Resident Assistant is permitted. What this means is: college administrators can enter your dorm room or college owned apartment without a warrant! These situations fall into five main categories:
- Searches in furtherance of an educational mission;
- A contractual agreement between the college student and the college or university;
- Health, safety, and emergencies;
- Special circumstances involving private colleges and Universities;
1. Educational Mission.
A search of a dorm room in furtherance of an educational mission can allow a college administrator to potentially gain entrance to your dorm room without a warrant. Colleges and universities often state many situations that qualify as an 'educational mission". For example, Western Michigan University and Calvin College state in their student handbooks that compliance with the Student Code of Conduct is an ''educational mission.' You should familiarize yourself with your college or university's Student Code of Conduct and Educational Mission so that you can try to avoid warrantless entry into your dorm room and potential legal problems.
2. Contractual Agreements.
When you filled out paperwork to live in student housing, your college or university likely required you to sign a rental agreement or lease. For example, Aquinas College reserves the right to have authorized college persons enter student rooms at any time for maintenance and repair purposes, when necessary to check on the health and safety of residents, or to check for suspected violations of Aquinas College's housing regulations in its Housing Contract. The Grand Valley State University Residential Handbook does the same.
So long as the contractual clauses are reasonably construed and reasonably acted on they are legally valid. When you signed the housing agreement and agreed to these terms, you contractually agreed to allow the college and university personnel access to your dorm room or apartment under those specific circumstances. However, you did not waive your Fourth Amendment rights nor consent to a warrantless entry by law enforcement or police (not to be confused with college RA's or campus security) nor did you agree to a search of your dorm room that exceeds the scope of the housing agreement.
3. Health, Safety, and Emergencies.
Universities and colleges are permitted to enter (and search) your dorm room or apartment to protect a student's health and safety. If for example the smell of marijuana is emanating out from under your dorm room door, a college RA or college personnel can enter your room without a warrant.
4. Private Colleges and Universities.
Without knowing it, you may have severely limited your legal rights by your choice of where to go to school. Most administrators at public universities, such as Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan University and Ferris State, are held to the same high standard as police officers when conducting a search of university dorm rooms or apartments.
A private college like Calvin College, Aquinas College, or Cornerstone University are able to greatly limit your rights in student housing. Since the institution is not public, administrators have much more leeway in entering your dorm room or campus housing, and you can get in trouble for whatever contraband they find when they enter your room ostensibly to 'check the heater.' Unlike public universities, private school administrators or those acting on their behalf can search your room to uphold the Student Code of Conduct that you agreed to and signed when you decided to attend that college. Typically, private colleges and universities have strict Codes of Student Conduct that can apply even when you are not on campus property or campus housing. You should read and know what is expected of you by your college by reviewing your student code of conduct booklet.
The quickest and easiest way a university administrator or the Police can enter your dorm room is if you permit them entry. This is also called 'consent.' If you are the occupant of your dorm room and have the authority to allow someone to come into your room to 'look around' or to 'talk with you for a minute,' you just gave consent for them to enter your dorm room without a warrant and without any justification whatsoever.
You should be aware that you are not obligated to allow the police into your dorm room. Either do not open the door or instead, talk to them through the door. If you would like to read more about the issue of consent, then see the link on this page where we discuss further legal issues relating to consent.
State and Local Police.
The Police must abide by the U.S. Constitutional constraints (limitations) when conducting a search and seizure. The police cannot use your housing contract or the Code of Student Conduct to justify their actions and bypass your constitutional rights. College administrators and your Resident Assistant (RA) or Campus Housing Director get their power from the contracts you sign with the college. However, be aware that your college or university cannot 'share' this contractual power with the Police to assist them in violating your Fourth Amendment rights. Your RA is not a police officer. He/she has no right to enter your room without consent or a valid reason.
Do not let nosy RA's or resident hall administrators ruin your college experience and career. Get legal advice if you think your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated.
"No person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…"
-(Excerpt from The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution)
A college student who is a long way from home and without family nearby will often panic if they are being questioned by a police officer or accused of a crime. Do not panic! Instead, keep your mouth shut and exercise your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination! You have an absolute Right to Remain Silent! The cops mean it when they tell you: "anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." Count on whatever you say being used against you; we have seen it over and over in case after case.
Simply identify yourself and provide an ID when asked, and then keep quiet. Politely and firmly advise the Police that you have nothing to say without an attorney present. If they persist with questions, again remind them you have nothing to say without an attorney present. If they threaten to arrest you if you don't talk then hold out your wrists! This is often a Police bluff that gets most college students talking — as they fear being arrested. While being arrested is not a pleasant experience, you probably won't be arrested and more importantly, your legal case will be vastly better, since the Police will not have a 'confession.'
Too often we are told about how a Police officer said that 'he would put in a good word with the judge (or prosecutor)' or that 'it will go better for you if you tell the truth' or some other illusory promise such as this. In case after case that we have handled, we have not yet seen where this promise was ever true. What usually happens is the exact opposite. These vague promises are NOT enforceable and are meaningless; just windmill arms swinging through empty dangerous air. Do not be a Don Quixote and fall for this ruse. Remain Silent!
Click on this link to read more about your Miranda Rights and when these warnings must be given. You will be surprised.
Thankfully, there is still some sense among those who make the criminal laws in this state. There are special sections and unique provisions for youthful offenders (under age of 21, and in some cases under age 24). In addition, there are laws that specifically allow diversion programs for Minor in Possession (MIP) cases and first time drug offender crimes, such as possession of marijuana or use of marijuana. Some district courts will even allow a first offense indecent exposure to be placed on a deferral type program.
A first offender diversion program typically places you on probation for six months to a year. If you successfully complete all of the terms of probation and pay the fines and court costs, you will end up without a criminal record. But these first offender programs are not handed out like candy. Some courts do not offer an first offender status. See our Minor in Possession Page for more information about this criminal charge and how an attorney can help you.
FINAL NOTE: We created this College Students Legal Resource Page for college students. We intend to continue adding relevant information to real issues faced by college students today. Email us with suggested topics at our contact page.
Attorney Bruce Alan Block is a Grand Rapids, Michigan criminal defense lawyer who has spent over 25 years successfully represented numerous college students accused of MIP, indecent exposure, theft, retail fraud, shoplifting, use of marijuana, possession of marijuana, and countless other charges. You have your whole life ahead of you. Take the time to research and talk with an attorney who cares about you and your situation.
Bruce Alan Block, PLC
Attorney and Counselor at Law
1155 East Paris Ave SE, Suite 300 Grand Rapids, MI 49546
Phone: (616) 676-8770
Serving Clients throughout Western Michigan, in Grand Rapids, Ada, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Cascade, Wyoming, Byron Center, Wyoming, Caledonia, Cascade, Rockford, Holland, Grand Haven, Grandville, Kent, Barry, Ottawa, Muskegon and Ionia County.
We represent college students from Calvin College, Aquinas, Grand Valley State University, Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids Community College, Michigan State University, and University of Michigan, Central Michigan University, Western Michigan University.