Law Offices of Swanton & Frederick
Defending Your Rights, Protecting Your Future

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Protecting Your Future: A Guide for Students

Growing up often means learning from your mistakes, but we don’t want those mistakes to hurt your future. As you head off to college, here’s a guide on how to protect yourself in some areas you may encounter in college, and help you make the right decisions. Knowing your surroundings and being mindful of your actions is an important first step. It’s also important to understand that your digital presence online can rarely be truly deleted or erased. Arm yourself with the knowledge of what your rights are in different areas of the law, whether you are in the right or wrong, as well as what you need to do if something unfortunate were to happen to you. While we hope that you will never need legal assistance, we’ve outlined what you would need to know in case you are arrested. Keep this guide marked for future reminders.

Students sitting on their phones and computers


1. Your digital presence can rarely be truly deleted or erased.

Everything you, or your online friends, post creates a digital presence. On good days, this historical view of your life can showcase the high points of your life and build a personal brand that portrays your unique personality. On bad days, it can showcase every mistake you might have made, be misconstrued by others, including future employers, and be held against you in a court of law. Even if you think a statement or photo has disappeared, our phones and the internet have better long term memories than we do. We could do an entire seminar on the risk of digital evidence and how the things you say, write, and do on the internet can come back to haunt you. Carefully consider what to post and not post online, what type of sites are dangerous to visit, and be sure to guard against others having access to your online accounts.

2. Be aware of your surroundings and be mindful of your actions.

College parties can be a lot of fun, but they can also be full of risk. Our experience in representing many students over the years teaches us that colleges are becoming more and more concerned about students’ use of alcohol and drugs. Be cautious when going to events with which you are not familiar, or where you are with a lot of people you don’t know. There is typically a lot of activity going on in the room at these kinds of events, so you need to be aware of the potential consequence of your actions, including underage drinking. Generally speaking, you must be 21 years of age or older to drink alcohol in the State of Texas. Receiving a Class C citation for a Minor in Possession of Alcohol (MIP) or a Minor in Consumption of Alcohol (MIC) can be a risk at a typical college party in Texas.

3. Know your rights - whether you are in the right or wrong.

We hear it on TV all the time, but in the unfortunate situation you are arrested, you have the right to remain silent and you have the right to speak to a lawyer before answering any questions from law enforcement. Know that anything you say to the police, your friends, the school, and even your parents, can be held against you. We understand that the natural inclination is to create an appearance of being honest and cooperative, but saying things early on in the process can often lead to more trouble down the road. Talk to a lawyer before making any statements to authorities. The only communication that is private, protected, and privileged is that between a client and a lawyer. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will listen and provide sound advice, help you navigate the next steps, and fight for the best outcome possible.

4. Be prepared - have experienced local lawyers on your side.

Time is of the essence if you find yourself charged with criminal conduct. You want to make sure you have the best defense possible. We think it is important to acquaint yourself with an experienced criminal defense attorney in the town, or general geographic area, in which you go to school. Local lawyers have the benefit of knowing the local system, the courthouse personnel, and who people are individually, not just their position. We have almost 60 years of combined legal experience and have developed relationships with the law enforcement officers, attorneys who work in the local District Attorney’s Offices, and the judges who often make final decisions in criminal cases. We would be happy to be that resource for you in Waco or the Central Texas area. Before you head off to college, take the time to plan for a potential problem. You don’t necessarily need a lawyer on retainer, but at least know an experienced local attorney you can contact in an emergency.

5. General information about a DUI/DWI.

The acronyms DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) refer to similar conduct: driving a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This can be a complicated and burdensome area of the law. Generally speaking, a DUI charge involves someone under the age of 21 and is a Class C misdemeanor in the State of Texas. A DWI charge can involve someone of any age and is typically a Class A or B misdemeanor. A conviction for these types of offenses can result in a variety of unfavorable consequences, including jail time, suspension of your license, fines, surcharges, probation, disciplinary consequences at your university, and an increase in car insurance premiums. Consider these potential consequences before getting behind the wheel after drinking. If you are stopped for drinking, you should be compliant and polite, but avoid saying more than is needed. In the event that you have been drinking, we generally advise against taking a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer test. While we always intend to make the right decisions, mistakes happen. Know what to do if you are stopped for drinking as a preventative measure. If you find yourself facing a criminal charge of this nature, be proactive and seek legal representation immediately.

6. Educate yourself about Title IX information and consequences.

Title IX proceedings in university settings have become an increasing area of concern for students. These proceedings can have major implications and consequences in both the university disciplinary process and the criminal justice process. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Generally speaking, students can be confronted with Title IX cases when there are allegations of sexual violence, assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, or other sexually inappropriate conduct. While Title IX proceedings are technically not criminal proceedings, the process can quickly evolve into interaction with law enforcement and the possible investigation of criminal complaints. The process can be very time consuming for the student and his or her family. It is imperative to seek the advice of an experienced attorney before making any statements or responses to university officials or law enforcement.

8. Understand how an arrest can affect the school disciplinary process.

Many universities, including Baylor, have their own disciplinary system and a criminal offense is typically a violation of the student code of conduct for the university. There are procedures provided by the university which are separate and apart from the criminal court. You should not discuss any case with judicial affairs officials, or make admissions, until you have talked to an attorney. The District Attorney’s office can have access to this information and can use it in the case against you. It is helpful to find a lawyer that understands the university procedures and requirements and can help you navigate through that system. We have assisted many students in this process.

9. What to do if arrested.

First and foremost, be respectful. The best way to protect yourself after arrest is to not talk to anyone about the case. Your communications with a lawyer are privileged, meaning they are private and protected. They can't be used against you. Your communications with any other person can be used against you. Most phone calls from the jail are recorded, listened to, and given to the government. So talking about anything related to the allegations against you can be harmful. It's not uncommon for people to call to try to get help bonding out and start talking about their case to their family, their parents, or their friends, explaining why they have been arrested. Even that conduct can be harmful and those words can be used against them. Next, call a good, experienced criminal defense lawyer. Find someone that is willing to listen and understand your situation. We are dedicated to be your advocate. We will walk you through the process, help you know your rights, and make sure that with each step of the way we are defending your rights and protecting your future.

Jeremy Bush