I grew up in Tuscaloosa, and I love living in a college town. I enjoy the vitality and optimism the students bring to Tuscaloosa and my family enjoys being so close to football games, and other sporting events. We get the benefit of eating at restaurants or attending plays that would not be here if there were no students. The students who live here bring a spirit to Tuscaloosa that makes it such a great place to live; Tuscaloosa would be unimaginably different if not for the students who live here.
Unfortunately, students sometimes run afoul of the law and get arrested. In addition to having to navigate the criminal justice system after an arrest, students may also have to interact with the University of Alabama’s Office of Student Conduct. Dealing with the courts and the University can be a daunting experience that no one wants to face.
Approximately half of my clients are students, and one of the most frequent questions they ask is whether they need an attorney to help them if they have been arrested. The simple answer is, almost always “YES,” but it is a question that each student – and their family — needs to address when they have been charged with a crime. Because the issues pertaining to the criminal justice system and those related to dealing with the University are so distinct, I will address each separately.
The Criminal Justice System
There are some circumstances – like minor traffic offences – when a person can probably get by without an attorney. With that said, those circumstances are extremely limited. When a person is charged with a crime, they face losing their liberty, their money, and their reputation. A conviction for even a minor offense can have consequences long into the future as student graduate and enter the workforce. Even otherwise minor traffic offenses can result in the suspension of a driver’s license if it is not handled correctly.
Tuscaloosa County and the municipalities located here are blessed to have some extremely skilled and knowledgeable prosecutors. Those prosecutors are good at what they do and a student who has been charged with a crime would be well served to contact an attorney who knows how the system works in order to reduce the effect the charge will have on the student’s future.
I sometimes meet with students and encourage them to proceed on their own if they have been charged with a minor offense but even minor offenses can have long term effects on a student’s employment opportunities. Any student who has to navigate the criminal justice system would be wise to at least consult an attorney in order to ensure that the consequences don’t follow them throughout their life.
The Office of Student Conduct
Over the years, the University of Alabama has developed an office that handles most issues pertaining to student discipline. The Office of Student Conduct is a well-run office staffed with some extraordinary people. They have proven themselves to have the student’s best interest at heart and they have access to resources that can be extremely beneficial to students. With that said, the decisions that the Office of Student Conduct make can have long lasting effects on a student’s future, and in some circumstances students would be wise to attend the meetings with the Office of Student Conduct with an attorney.
Almost every time a student is arrested in Tuscaloosa, the arresting agency will let the University know about the arrest and the student will have to interact with the Office of Student Conduct. All of the dealings with the Office of Student Conduct are conducted in line with the University of Alabama’s Code of Student Conduct. Thus, dealings with the Office of Student Conduct are different than the dealings with a court. The Office of Student Conduct can sanction a student in a variety of different ways – those sanctions may include drug screens, community service work, classes and, in more serious cases, suspension or expulsion.
While the attorney may not speak on behalf of the student at the Office of Student Conduct, the attorney may advise the student and let the Office of Student Conduct know the status of the Court case. Making sure that the Office of Student Conduct knows what sanctions a student may face with the Courts can often times reduce the amount of sanctions levied by the Office of Student Conduct because the Office of Student Conduct will, in some circumstances, give a student credit for sanctions levied by the Court. Thus, the attorney’s participation in the meeting can reduce the amount of sanctions the students faces.
While there are times that a student could proceed without an attorney after an arrest, these incidents are rare. Students worked hard to get into the University of Alabama, and they work hard to put themselves in as good a position as possible when they graduate. If they get arrested, it only makes sense to consult an attorney in order to not let one bad decision negatively affect them the rest of their lives.