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Earlier Fests lead to harsher punishments for student repeat offenders

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Since fall semester, repeat offenders are now being denied the option of house arrest under Athens Municipal Court judge.

Springtime in Athens typically means festival time. This leads to an increase in the number of Code B offenses in the Code of Conduct, such as unauthorized use of alcoholic beverages, possession or use of marijuana, disturbing peace and failure to comply.

Because of semester changes and the school year ending a month earlier, the ‘fest’ schedule had to be rearranged, pushing half of the fests into the fall semester. This includes Ark, Elliot, 10, Oak-tober, Homecoming and Congo fests that all lead up to Halloween weekend.  The springtime will see Mill, High, OU Mom’s weekend, 11, Palmerplace and Palmer fests starting March 15 and occurring every weekend until April 20, skipping March 29 and 30.

This also means an increase in the number of cases that the Center Student Legal Services (CSLS) have to oversee and an increase of convictions by the Athens County Municipal Court Judge William Grim. Grim most recently made news around Ohio for refusing to allow an OU student to have a public defender because of her parents income.

On the quarter system, having the entire fest season at the end of the year gave students more time to turn the legal age to consume alcohol. This helped lessen the amount of students charged with underage alcohol consumption. Because OU is now on semesters, and fests are earlier in the year, this leads to the massive increase in charged underage alcohol consumption.

The Athens County Municipal Court has in place a 90-day Underage Drinker’s Diversion Program for first time offenders who have been charged with Underage Consumption of Alcohol, Underage Possession of Alcohol, False ID or Disorderly Conduct by Intoxication.

Any first time offender is eligible for this and has to go through a series of steps, such as paying a $319 fee for the program, completing an alcohol class, reading a book, holding good behavior and completing 12 hours of community service, according to the City of Athens Ohio website, www.ci.athens.oh.us. The case is ended in a dismissal and the record would be expunged.

Patrick McGee, managing attorney at the Center of Student Legal Services for Ohio University students, explained Judge Grim’s new way of handling this increase in charges.

“With the quarter system in previous years, a second-time offender would have two options: pay a $250 fine, do 20 hours of community service and either spend two days in jail or spend four days on house arrest, in which an offender could still attend classes and go to work. This would be regardless if you completed the Diversion Program and your case was dismissed,” McGee said.

“In [Judge Grim’s] eyes, it would still be a second offense, regardless,” McGee said.

With the semester change and an increase in charges, Grim decided to cut the latter of those two options around Halloween, denying students the option of house arrest.

Alex Lilly, senior Spanish major tells her feelings on the change, “There is a disconnection between enforcing the new [punishment] and students quitting their underage drinking. Student Senate recently increased the fee for underage consumption and even that has failed to stop [underage] students from drinking.”

“I would say 99% of my clients who were second offenders chose the house arrest option, verses going to jail. This came as quite a shock to most students as they were used to having that second option there,” said McGee.

Grim’s office was reached out to multiple times for comment, but no one was available.

 

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