Practical Advice for College Students From South Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney Stephen F. Krzyston

It is extremely important to understand how to defend your rights and manage your risk as a college student when it comes to weapon, drug and alcohol use or possession. As a lawyer with the public defender in Columbia, SC and now as an attorney with Cavanaugh & Thickens, I have seen first-hand the affect that arrests and disciplinary referrals have on young adults. While (obviously) option one is to avoid situations that can lead to this kind of trouble to begin with, the following are my recommendations for minors when it comes to defending their rights and managing risks associated with allegations of on and off-campus drinking, drug usage, and weapon possession.

1. Research Your University’s Imposed Sanctions.

Roughly 80 percent of college students – about four of every five – consume alcohol, and an estimated 50 percent of those students engage in binge drinking. In response, almost every college has set consequences for weapon, drug, and alcohol possession on campus. These may include but are not limited to, policy and safety classes, community service, conduct probation, drug tests, essays, fines, housing removal, substance use groups, and even suspension. Many colleges list this information on their websites, and you can typically find it by using the search tool or checking the departments tab for an official drug/alcohol/weapon policy.

Resource: This interactive map helps you find college alcohol policies. Simply click the state your college is in and find the link for your specific university.

2. Figure Out Where You’re Most at Risk.

Where is your risk of arrest or disciplinary referrals the highest? Is it on campus? In dorms? Is it at bars or nightclubs in the area? Know this and always keep it in mind when you are in high-risk environments, or even better avoid them altogether.

Tip: Many colleges have crime logs or bulletins that are updated frequently with general incident location information. Also, all Colleges and Universities are required to compile annual reports of arrest and disciplinary referrals: Look up your college or university’s Clery Report. Clery reports are valuable tools that can help you identify where you are most at risk.

3. Understand How to Properly Manage Arrest.

It is critical to behave correctly if you or someone you know is being arrested for a drug, alcohol, or weapon-related crime. Even if the officer is being unfair, unreasonable, or unprofessional, you reduce your chances of optimizing outcomes if you engage in the same unfair, unreasonable, and unprofessional conduct. Wrongful arrests can be harder to fix when the circumstances of the arrest give unprofessional officers an “out” for their actions.

You should always:

  • Be POLITE.
  • KEEP your composure.
  • REMEMBER that you’re being recorded.

Upon arrest, say/do the following:

  • “Good afternoon, Sir. May I ask why you are stopping me?”
  • “Am I free to leave, or am I being detained?”
  • If you’re being detained, ask whether you are under arrest.
  • If you are not under arrest, politely inform the officer that you are leaving if you are not under arrest.
  • Provide government identification, if it can de-escalate the situation and it is not evidence of your guilt (i.e., underage drinking).
  • Keep in mind there is no legal requirement in S.C. to provide your identification upon request. (Keep in mind, reciting this will aggravate the situation).
  • If you are being arrested and taken to jail say: “I do not wish to discuss anything without a lawyer.”
  • Remain SILENT and peacefully submit to arrest. Remember, after you get out of the detention center, a lawyer can help you navigate how best to handle the situation.

Additional notes:

  • Use common sense, do not be difficult for the sake of being difficult (you aren’t a lawyer – yet!)
  • Do not fall asleep on the ride to jail.
  • Do not bring drugs into the jail.
  • Do not discuss your charges on jail phones.

4. Request an Attorney Upon Arrest.

If you have been arrested for a weapon, drug, or alcohol crime, then you have the right to choose an attorney to represent you throughout the entire criminal process and during all court hearings. The police may not ask you any questions about the incident until you have had an opportunity to speak with your criminal defense attorney or have an attorney present. 

Tip: I recommend finding a reputable law firm and/or criminal defense attorney in your area and saving their contact information on your phone so you’re always prepared.

5. Remember Your Rights!

Right to Remain Silent – Miranda Warnings:

You have the right to remain SILENT, you should use it. Anything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him or her present while you’re being questioned. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questions if you wish. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.

On Impaired Driving:

You don’t have to do field sobriety testing or provide a breathalyzer sample. However, failing to provide a breath test sample may lead to administrative license suspensions which are imposed by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. Field sobriety testing is a “no-win” situation for people who are being accused of impaired driving. Field sobriety tests are subjective tests that officers attempt to use to demonstrate the extent of your impairment.

Disclaimer: The opinions and ideas in this article are for informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice. Each case is different and must be evaluated based on its own particular facts and merits

If you have any questions on the information provided above, please contact Steve Krzyston at [email protected]. If you are looking for a criminal defense attorney in the state of South Carolina, please call (803) 888-2200 to schedule a free consultation today.