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Know Your Rights for Fest Season

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With Athens’ fest season in full swing, past student encounters with law enforcement can teach valuable lessons on how to assert your rights and avoid arrest.

According to the Athens Police Department’s annual report, police make an average of 709 alcohol-related arrests each year. In 2012, 574 arrests were made for alcohol-related instances. Underage consumption arrests average 212 per year, with 205 arrests made in 2012. More arrests are made on Saturdays than any other day of the week.

This year, Mill Fest experienced almost 30 arrests for over 40 different charges.

But in many cases, students can avoid arrest by simply asserting their Fourth Amendment rights when interacting with an officer.

Junior Jane Smith*, then a freshman,  was arrested during 2011’s Palmer Fest for underage consumption after a police officer saw her drop a beer can on the ground and walk away from a party. Smith was questioned by a police officer and asked her age. Smith told them she was underage at the time and was arrested.

According to an earlier interview with the Center for Student Legal Services (CSLS) Managing Attorney Patrick McGee, students under the age of 21, when confronted by a police officer for underage consumption, should make the encounter as swift as possible.

Director of Student Defending (SDS) Students Molly Nocheck reiterated this information. “You are legally required to identify yourself if you’re stopped,” Nocheck said. “If age is a factor in the crime you’re accused of committing, though, you don’t have to give them that info. And you don’t have to give them your I.D.”

The City of Athens does not require a person to produce identification if said identification would lead to his or her conviction. When confronted by a police officer and asked to see identification, a person only has to state his or her name and address.

Smith, at the time, should have simply stated her name and address and ended the conversation as quickly as possible, according to McGee. If, after asserting this right, the police arrested her and then discovered she was underage, the court may have dismissed her case on the basis that law enforcement had no probable cause for arrest.

Which is exactly what Smith did on her second encounter with law enforcement a year later on the day of Mill Fest. Smith was arrested anyway but was able to have her case dismissed in court because she did not disclose her age when questioned by police officers at a private party on Congress Street.

Nocheck and SDS also advise students to not present fake identification to law enforcement and to promptly leave a party if it is being shut down. “It’s like a fire drill: get out of there quickly and calmly to avoid getting burned,” the SDS Facebook page says.

Junior Cole Davis*, after being arrested a first time for underage alcohol consumption, said he learned his rights through CSLS and was better prepared when confronted by law enforcement a second time.

At a Mill Street party, Davis’ use of a megaphone attracted police attention. When confronted, Davis firmly apologized for the noise disturbance and promised to stop using the megaphone. When the police officer questioned further and asked Davis’ age, Davis readily said, “I’m sorry officer, but I do not have to give that information.”

After a few minutes of arguing with the officer, Davis was arrested. His case was thrown out in court.

But both Davis and Smith were presented with more obstacles when Ohio University’s Office of Community Standards also charged them with code violations.

“All Athens, State and Liquor Control police reports are given to the Office of Community Standards,” Nocheck said. It is entirely possible that a student who is arrested off-campus can be charged by both Athens police and the university judiciaries, even if the student’s case was dismissed by a court of law.

Nocheck advises that is it important for students to comply with law enforcement. “Failure to comply can lead to suspension,” Nocheck said. “Be aware of your surroundings. Try to walk with a group of friends, if possible.”

*Editorial Note: Certain names have been changed to protect the identity of sources.

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