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CSLS: Your legal years

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It is a common occurrence in our office to see students who have been arrested for public intoxication even if they are over the age of 21. These students are often shocked; they were convinced that being of “legal drinking age” means that they can legally drink anything, anywhere, at any time. Unfortunately for them, this is not the case.

While most students are excited to celebrate the golden age of 21, achieving this goal does not necessarily bestow wisdom or invulnerability. Neither does arriving at this magical age prevent our actions from landing us in jail—or a pig sty—if we exceed our limits.

Ohio law provides that if someone is voluntarily intoxicated so that they pose a danger to themselves or others, or to property, they may be guilty of “disorderly conduct.” While disorderly conduct is a minor misdemeanor, in instances when the accused is perceived as being incapable of caring for himself, incarceration—like a hangover— usually follows. In short, there is no law that allows someone of legal age to be so intoxicated as to become a “problem,” without facing the consequences.

For a college student, the consequences include the creation of a criminal record. Accumulate several disorderly conduct charges during your “legal years” at college and you have a record worth reading by employers or other interested parties. Moreover, the scandalous pages of your official biography are emblazoned on the Internet—and often include mugshots.

For what it’s worth, Ohio law allows you to expunge an unlimited number of minor misdemeanor disorderly conducts, provided you manage to get in at least one year of being a law-abiding citizen. However, it may be difficult to convince a judge that you have rehabilitated yourself and are now a productive member of society when he needs a scroll to list your criminal record. “But,” you ask, “aren’t there some defenses to disorderly conduct? I wasn’t that drunk.”  Regardless of your red, bloodshot eyes, brewery scent, mushy mouth, and vacillating desire to cry, laugh and howl at the same time, not to mention your turtle-like reasoning, you are certain that you were still standing and could have made it home. The argument may have some merit depending upon whether you were within sight of sanctuary and whether you were capable of conveying that tidbit to the impatient police officer who wanted only to tighten the cuffs. Your defense may be weakened as well by soiled garments or by being caught in an act of public urination—which by itself can result in a conviction for disorderly conduct by creating an “offensive condition.”

In conclusion, even legal drinking can have unpleasant results. Jail, fines, court costs, criminal records, and conviction of an OVI or DUI may end a “promising career.” This is not to mention the possible personal consequences such as sexual diseases, fights, robbery, physical injury, bad dancing, YouTube videos, and general deterioration of mind or body.

While your lawyer may get a prosecutor to dismiss a “disorderly” charge if you are a graduating senior and you do twenty or so hours of community service, no one can give you back what you lose when you let alcohol get the best of you.

This column was brought to you by Managing Attorney, Patrick McGee and Program Coordinator, Tracy Kelly, at The Center for Student Legal Services.The Center for Student Legal Services (CSLS) is a non-profit law office created to educate, represent and protect Ohio University students in matters related to identity theft, landlord / tenant issues, alcohol consumption, contract reviews, traffic violations, misdemeanors, credit law and more. For more information, call us at 740-594-8093 or visit our office at 50 S. Court St., Suite D (above College Bookstore).

 

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