Breaking news: college students drink.
The problem is that, in many cases, these students aren’t of age — at least for their first couple years in school.
So, what happens when someone gets into trouble?
Sarah Barr, attorney for Student Legal Services, has been Kansas State’s one-woman resource for any student legal questions for just over 17 years.
“I’m not an attorney for K-State Student Legal Services,” Barr said. “I am K-State Student Legal Services. It’s just me.”
Barr works with students in legal trouble to decide next steps, and she says the most common charges she deals with are minors in possession.
“I get dozens and dozens of those,” Barr said. “Last year, 240 of my cases were criminal cases, and 173 of those were alcohol-related.”
Barr said when students come into her office with alcohol-related charges, they likely have a notice to appear in Manhattan Municipal Court.
From there students have three options: “They can plead guilty, they can plead not guilty or they can ask for a diversion.”
A guilty plea will result in a fine of $200, a $155 court cost and the loss of a driver’s license for 30 days.
When a student pleads not guilty, they can ask for a trial, and the city will have to prove the charges against them.
The third option is pleading not guilty and entering into a diversion, or a contract with the city in which the offender agrees to follow certain rules to have the charges against them dismissed. The conditions of a diversion include a total of $455 in fees and court costs, and an agreement that the defendant won’t get into any other legal trouble for three months.
“No drugs or alcohol, regardless of whether you turn 21 in the meantime,” Barr said. “And if you got [the charge] in Aggieville, no Aggieville. If you get it at a football game, no K-State sporting events.”
At the completion of the contract, all charges are dismissed and cannot be refiled.
As for diversions for driving under the influence, Barr said the process is the same, but the conditions of a diversion are more expensive and time-intensive — and include community service.
“I encourage students, if this is their first MIP, to get a diversion,” Barr said.
Barr said most students get private attorneys for “heavier” charges like DUIs.
In Manhattan, MIP offenders are only eligible to apply for a diversion for their first offense.
Barr said in her experience, the legal system in place in Manhattan does a good job of deterring students from repeating alcohol-related criminal offenses.
Most of the time, Barr said she has a feeling if a student will be a repeat offender.
“Somebody comes in, and I’ll spend a lot of time talking about what happens if they get into trouble again because I just have that feeling,” she said. “There was one kid who got a diversion at maybe 10 in the morning, and by 5 that afternoon, he was puking drunk in the bushes outside [of a dorm building.]”
While repeat offenses do happen, Barr said they’re not a common occurrence.
“The diversion officer says there aren’t very many revocations on students because the students are afraid of me,” Barr said.
Barr said the end of tailgating season typically leads to a decrease in the number of MIP cases she deals with.
Andy Thompson, assistant dean of student life, said student code of conduct violations relating to alcohol have similar highs in the fall.
Thompson and Peter Moyer, senior in political science and economics and attorney general of Student Governing Association, deal with the on-campus side of underage drinking at K-State.
The campus process is different than the legal process, Thompson said, but students sometimes face both legal and campus conduct issues.
Moyer said SGA will see three to 4 students a week during football season.
“Our jurisdiction is on-campus or campus-sponsored events, so tailgating in the grass lot qualifies as a campus-sponsored event,” Moyer said.
Even with numbers spiking in the fall, Moyer said K-State’s number of alcohol-related conduct issues is still “atypically low for any major institution.”
No one wants to get in trouble, but when students do, Barr, Moyer and Thompson agree that it’s not the end of the world.
Barr said her ability to set minds at ease is one of the things that makes working for Student Legal Services the best job she’s ever had.
According to post-appointment surveys, students report being “less worried and more confident” after meeting with Barr.
“Most people think they’re going to get expelled, so as soon as we tell them, ‘You’re not getting expelled — you just need to think about how much you’re drinking,’ they’re pretty thrilled,” Moyer said.
The first thing students receiving alcohol-related charges should do, Barr said, is to get legal advice from a lawyer.
“Don’t take the advice of your roommate’s boyfriend who is thinking about law school,” she said.
Thompson said he recommends Barr’s services to any student with a legal question.
“You’ve paid for it. It’s part of your student fees,” he said.
To deal with stress in the aftermath of receiving an MIP, Barr said students should “continue to eat, and sleep and go to class — it is not a life or career-ending event. It feels like it, but it isn’t.”
To schedule an appointment with Barr, contact the Office of Student Life.