Advice for Young People Going Off to College

Over 40 years of prosecuting and defending cases, we have had the opportunity to deal with many bizarre and tragic situations that occur among college students.Some of those cases involve very troubled individuals who are either a victim and/or an offender.But many cases involve otherwise smart, well-adjusted, young men and women who made just one bad decision or a series of bad decisions that resulted in serious injury, death, expulsion from school, and/or long periods of incarceration.During four years of high school, boys and girls develop mentally and physically into men and women.However, it is during college that men and woman develop into “adults.”This is partly because the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the part of the brain that controls decision-making and judgment -- does not fully develop until the mid-twenties.Also, most college students don’t have children, mortgages, and car payments.So, college students are less concerned about taking care of what they have, and more concerned about getting the next experience they have not yet had.If you are on your way to college and a vast array of new experiences, here is some advice culled from the mistakes of those who have gone before you.

Alcohol is a Tricky Drug.If you are not of legal age, we as attorneys must advise you to not consume alcohol.However, if you decide to ignore our advice, it is important that you remember that alcohol is a “tricky drug.”Unlike drinking three or four soft drinks, consuming three or four beers or glasses of wine will make you want to drink more.In excessive amounts, alcohol will reduce your inhibitions, impair your ability to evaluate what is going on around you, and reduce your ability to protect yourself.Unlike most real-life adult situations where the people have kids to take care of and jobs to go to the next morning, college offers the atmosphere of a giant sleep-over.Such an atmosphere more easily leads to irresponsible and dangerous behavior.Endeavor to be the smartest person in the room during any situation involving alcohol.Get in the habit of keeping one eye on the number of drinks you have had and one eye on a clock.Know what your pace is of drinks per hour.And always be in control of your faculties so that you can enjoy your time at an event without having to depend on other people for your safety.

Don’t ingest any pill that has not been prescribed to you.Pills are everywhere on college campuses.Young adults are getting access to prescription medication and using them for illegal and inappropriate reasons – to stay awake before an exam; to be alert during an exam; to “chill out” after an exam.Be aware that it is illegal to possess prescription medication that has not been prescribed to you.In most states, giving pills to another person makes you guilty of drug distribution and earns you the label of “drug dealer.” Moreover, it is extremely dangerous to ingest pills because you have no ability to reverse the effects (without serious medical intervention) if you have an adverse reaction.Some medications are as addictive as heroin. Every individual has different vulnerabilities to becoming addicted to controlled medications.Your roommate may be able to use certain medications without any lasting effects, while you might start experiencing cravings after just one use.

When I went to college, we celebrated the end of exams with a case of a beer, a “boom box,” and a frisbee.Now, many students celebrate the end of an exam by mixing non-prescribed benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin) and alcohol – an extremely dangerous and addictive combination.(See https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/mixing-klonopin/) More students are also going off to college with valid prescriptions for benzodiazepines and other medication.The fact that your pills may be prescribed makes them no less dangerous once you start drinking alcohol.Even if you are certain you will not be taking any pills during your time at college, listen to what you were told during orientation and do not consume any drink that you did not pour for yourself.There are plenty of people at your college who will think they are doing you (or themselves) a favor by giving you a drink that has been spiked with some medication or drug.

The Court System is not sympathetic to young people who commit crimes or dangerous acts while drunk or high.You may have heard about people receiving light sentences because they committed their crimes while being drunk or high, or while dealing with an addiction.Those stories sometimes get press attention because they are the rather outrageous exceptions to a very different reality.Judges are aware that there is plenty of information out there from elementary school on up warning young people about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.They know that because you have made it to college, you have achieved a rather significant level of intelligence.Thus, it is not unusual for a judge to tell a defendant at a sentencing:

“I understand your judgment may have been impaired at the time you engaged in this behavior, but I am sure that long before you drank the alcohol and consumed the drugs you were well armed with plenty of warnings of the mind-altering effects of these substances.Therefore, I find it to be little significance for you to tell me that you would not have behaved this way but for your level of impairment that evening.”

Therefore, be aware that even high-achieving students, who are also talented musicians and athletes, from law-abiding, church-going families, who donate hundreds of hours to charitable organizations sometimes go to prison for years because of tragic consequences that occurred while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

You need to have consent for every sexual act or touching you engage in with another individual.When you got your driver’s license, you learned that there are rules of the road and you can’t drive a car as fast as you want and in any manner you want.Instead, you have to be respectful of speed limits; stay in your lane; go on green and stop on red; you have to avoid striking other vehicles; cooperate with one another so everyone gets to their destination safely.Similarly, you can’t do whatever you want to do just because you have started a sexual encounter with another person.There are rules that follow you into a locked dorm room.The most important rule: you are only allowed to legally do what that other person consents to doing.That can get tricky since sex often does not involve verbal requests and affirmative responses at various points of an encounter.Be aware that if you touch someone in a manner that they do not consent to, you could be prosecuted for a sex offense.For example, if you pinch someone on the rear-end and that person complains about it, you could be prosecuted in Maryland for a fourth degree sex offense which, if convicted, requires that you be listed on the sex offender registry for 15 years.All of your neighbors and employers who look you up on the registry are not going to read that you pinched someone in the rear.They are just going to read that you were convicted of a fourth degree sex offense.If you are “making out” with someone and put your finger somewhere you though she would appreciate, but it turns out you were wrong, you can similarly be prosecuted for a felony sex offense.Also, be aware that if you are engaged in intercourse and the other person tells you to stop and you do not stop immediatelyyou can be prosecuted and found guilty of rape. In other words, if she says “ouch, stop” and you say “just a few more seconds” and keep going for just a few more seconds, you have just committed what Maryland calls “second degree rape” with a potential 20 year prison sentence.

Don’t Have Sex with a Drunk Person.“Wow!” you are saying; because alcohol use is often prelude to sex.Having sex in Maryland with a person whose ability to consent to sex is substantially impaired by alcohol constitutes the crime of second degree rape.Thus, if a woman you were with wakes up the next day and does not remember having intercourse with you, or regrets that she was so drunk that she had sex with you, some prosecutor or police officer may decide to charge you with rape.Instead of telling your wing-man, “She is so wasted, I think I am ‘hooking up’ tonight.”You might want to say: “I’m staying clear of that situation.”

Don’t have sex without really getting to know the person you are about to have sex with.I understand that people “hook up.”People “hook up” through internet apps.People “hook up” at parties.You may think it’s not a successful Saturday night unless you “hook up.”However, more than ever, “hooking up” can be very dangerous for each party.Especially if you are female, and therefore less likely on average to physically defend yourself in an isolated sexual situation, it is important to understand that the impairment of the other person may contribute to them not stopping when you say “stop.”Even if the other person is not impaired by drugs and alcohol, you need to be aware that too many people are walking around out there with backward, strange and dangerous views about how sex is supposed to go.Many people have fetishes, fueled by easy access to internet porn, that they are not going to reveal to you until you find yourself alone and in a vulnerable situation.Many people are also walking around with mental illnesses and emotional history that could contribute to aggressive behaviors when you confront them about their conduct.

If you are male, you should be worried about being a defendant and possibly going to prison for double-digit years if you are going to just “hook up” with someone you do not know really well.We have represented many people in cases involving false allegations of rape and other sexual offenses.You don’t hear about these cases because after our client is done going through the nightmare of a criminal prosecution, he usually is not interested in telling the world his story of how he was falsely accused of a sex offense.But false allegations are made and good, aggressive prosecutors sometimes dismiss sex offense cases because the allegations are not credible. Sometimes the complainant later admits she made it up. Text messages sometimes reveal she made it up.Medical examinations and DNA evidence might contradict what the complainant reported; or she describes the event in a manner that is physically impossible.Think of it this way: if you believe that we live in a world with disturbed people who are willing to commit heinous crimes, it should not be too hard to believe that the same world is populated with disturbed people who are willing to take the less personally risky step of accusing another person of a heinous crime.Those cases may make up a small percentage of the cases being reported.But you don’t want to be on the receiving end of the small percentage of false allegations. There is also plenty of research out there suggesting that 1 to 4 percent of the population fit the criteria for being labeled a sociopath, with one of the primary characteristics being an inability to feel empathy for others.In other words, someone in your dorm may not give two damns about the consequences for you if they falsely accuse you of a crime.Now let me give another situation to contemplate.You “hook up” with someone you know very little about.In your mind, this is a “no strings attached” situation.However, in her mind this is the magical beginning of a long-term relationship. But all she gets from you the next day is radio silence.She starts thinking: “Well, I didn’t expect that.”That thought is not too far away from: “Well, I didn’t consent to that.”What if in the next few days she is treated horribly by your friends or her friends because of your “hook up.”Now, she is also incredibly hurt and angry.If she then starts to remember your conduct differently than how you remember it, how many witnesses did you have in the room that night to back up your version?Zero.

Then consider all the good progress that has been made in the last twenty years in the prosecution of sexual assault cases.Charges no longer get dropped simply because the case is a “she said; he said.”Clients in sex offense cases and their worried parents ask us all the time: “How can the prosecution go forward with this case if there is no proof?”However, what an alleged victim tells a jury can be proof beyond reasonable doubt if the jury believes her.Why should a jury believe her?Well, a more powerful question is, “Why should a jury not believe her?”Why would she make up this very serious accusation, accuse a college acquaintance for no apparent reason, and subject herself to the anxiety that comes with a criminal trial if her accusation is not true?”Prosecutors do not need DNA or evidence of physical abuse to convict a young man of serious sexual offenses. Additionally, what is sometimes referred to as the new “me too” world has generated public scrutiny that seems to advocate for the punishment of nearly every allegation of sexual misconduct.This puts pressure on prosecutor offices to error on the side of prosecution.There are also plenty of university officials who don’t want to be terminated, sued and prosecuted if their institutions do not aggressively respect and punish allegations of sexual misconduct.In many ways, these are positive developments.But do not expect your university to error on the side of caution by giving the accused the benefit of the doubt.

So, here is the seemingly old-fashioned part that many modern-day college students will not want to hear.This has nothing to do with religious or political views.This is about tactics; tactics to prevent you from becoming a victim or a defendant.If sex is the product of a relationship that has grown over time while developing mutual feelings of trust and caring between two people who know each other very well, those two people greatly (1) reduce the chances that anything is going to happen during a sexual encounter that is going to make one of the participants feel like an unwilling participant; and (2) reduce the chances that someone is going to make a false allegation about that encounter.However, if you treat sex at college like a recreational wrestling match in a locked dorm room while one or both of you is severely under the influence of alcohol (and/or drugs), the chances of you overstepping her bounds go up significantly.The chances of her perceiving that you have overstepped her bounds go up significantly.The chances of her being really upset about something you did or did not do during or after that encounter go up significantly.And the chances she may report that you did something that felt like it was done without her consent go up significantly.