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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Learn, obey local laws to avoid lasting consequences

A night on the town can present great photo opportunities -- as long as those photos aren't mug shots.

Trouble with the law is the last thing new students want on their plates while they're busy getting used to a new town, new classes and new friends.

But even though most students know what is and isn't allowed, hundreds wind up in trouble each semester.

Violations of state laws against drinking alcohol under the age of 21, owning fake IDs and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol are the most common among incoming freshman, according to local police.

University Police spokesman Capt. Jeff Holcomb said he thinks students who are new to Gainesville often test the boundaries of their freedom and sometimes find themselves crossing the line.

"Mom and Dad aren't here now," Holcomb said. "Students suddenly have to take serious responsibility, and if they don't, that can lead to trouble."

Holcomb said some students may not know about other related local and campus rules.

Two more often-violated city and school ordinances are ones that prohibit public urination and carrying open containers of alcohol on public property, he said.

Violations are most frequent during the fall football season, he said.

On football weekends, University Police specifically target "unrestricted drinking atmospheres," which usually means a tailgating party with a keg, Holcomb said.

Police keep an eye on those parties because hosts often don't check whether the people lining up for beer are actually 21, he said. If underage students are found with alcohol, they will receive not only a citation to appear in court, but also an order to meet with UF Student Judicial Affairs, a committee that handles violations of the school code of conduct.

Chris Loschiavo, assistant dean of judicial affairs, said when students are found violating the code of conduct, they are asked to schedule a meeting with a judicial affairs counselor.

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In most cases, students choose between an informal or formal meeting, he said.

Violations are usually handled informally, which means students will discuss their cases with a staff member who will then determine an appropriate consequence.

Possible consequences include seminars on alcohol and drug use and a written reprimand on a student's conduct record that mentions the incident.

Written reprimands can come into play when students are applying for law school or other forms of graduate education, he said.

A second offense or a serious first offense can prevent a student from holding office in student organizations, studying abroad or competing in sports, Loschiavo said.

Those punishments are in addition to the possible ones a student may get from the city or state, he said.

Spencer Mann, spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, said consequences for violating city or state laws or ordinances vary according to a student's criminal history and the specifics of the offense.

"But crimes that may not seem significant can really haunt you later in life," Mann said.

Applying for jobs, schools and licensing can all be affected by even minor offenses, he said.

Mann recommended that students visit to become familiar with state laws and the possible repercussions that come with violations.

Gainesville Police spokeswoman Summer Hallett said students also should remember dealing with police is much easier when all parties are respectful and honest.

"If you've done something wrong and you're caught, your night may be ruined," Hallett said. "But if you're rude, and you lie to us, a lot more than one night will be ruined."

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