Having had the opportunity to represent hundreds of Baylor University, McLennan Community College, Texas Tech and other college students over the years, I’ve learned that students don’t know what their rights are. That’s not surprising: there aren’t any classes on it, and most people don’t think it’s something you need to worry about. After all, no one thinks a student is going to get arrested or questioned.

They are also naïve about the things that can get them in trouble. So, in an effort to keep you from learning things the hard way, here are my top ten rules to always remember.

  1. Police don’t have to tell you they are “cops” 
    I don’t know where this rumor came from…probably the movies. But it’s not true.  Law enforcement can flat out lie to you. So asking an officer to tell you if he is an officer isn’t getting you anywhere.
  2. You’re 18…No More Blaming Mom
    That means if you get charged, it’s an adult charge. Actually, this happened when you turned 17. Once you turn 17 you are an adult in the eyes of the law. That means you can get sent to an adult prison, even though you can’t even register to vote yet. That also means a conviction stays on your record.  So keep that in mind when you friends try to convince you to do something that your mother wouldn’t approve of.
  3. Smelling like marijuana is enough reason for the police to search you and your car  
    If you smell like marijuana, no amount of Axe Body Spray (tip: if you try this, that's also going to raise suspicion) is going to save you.  That means that if you’re smoking marijuana in your car, and get stopped for a traffic offense, your car is probably going be searched. And guess what? That also means that if you're around people smoking marijuana, you're probably going to smell like pot.
  4. Going along with Rule 3, Don’t go smoke in your car 
    I can’t believe the number of kids living in a dorm or apartment who go out to their car, thinking they are being smart. Police aren’t stupid; they have a pretty good idea what someone sitting in a parked car full of smoke is doing.
  5. More than one person can possess an illegal item, and you can possess something even if it’s not on you.
    If your friend wants a ride and has something you wouldn’t want to get caught with, tell him to toss it or he’s walking.
  6. You can get a DUI even if you’re not intoxicated 
    You’re under 21, so you can’t drink – period. If you have a beer and get behind the wheel you can get arrested for driving under the influence. They don’t have to test you – the smell of alcohol on your breath is enough to make you guilty. Until you turn 21 you really can’t drink and drive.
  7. You don’t have to let police search your home, bag, or pockets  
    I will qualify this rule with “DON’T BE A JERK.” Police need reasonable suspicion to pull you over and probable cause of criminal activity to search your car. They can get around the probable cause with your consent. You DO NOT have to provide consent. But the worst client for any criminal defense attorney is a young college kid who was a jerk to an officer and spent 20 minutes informing the officer of his “rights.” It makes you look arrogant, rude, and spoiled – and no judge wants to help out someone who is arrogant, rude and spoiled. If an officer asks to search, a simple, “Officer I have nothing to hide, but I cannot grant you consent to search,” is fine. If you want a script for what to say, get our Free Document holder to carry with you.
  8. If you’re going to break the law, only one at a time, please  
    Look, I’m no fool. I’m also no angel either. I am a realist. And I know that college kids get into trouble. But, for Pete’s sake, only one at a time! If I had to count the number of times that I represented someone who got pulled over for speeding and ended up with a DWI, possession of marijuana, etc. charge…I’d be an accountant. Law enforcement encounters often involve police catching people breaking the law, and THEN investigating FURTHER. And they usually charge you with EVERYTHING they can.
  9. Theft is serious – don’t do it 
    A theft conviction – even a Class C one – will follow you the rest of your life. You can never serve on a jury, and more importantly, no one wants to hire someone with a theft conviction. And if you do get charged with theft, DON’T go in and simply pay the ticket. There are ways to keep it off your record, but not if you simply go in and pay the ticket.
  10. The final tip – don’t try to handle it on your own.
    Yes, your parents are going to be mad, and you’re probably going to get in trouble. However, no matter how mad they are, they don’t want to see you destroy your career before you even get started, and are probably going to help. They might even be able to turn it into a learning experience. 

If you are reading this too late, and need a criminal defense attorney in Waco, or McLennan, Bill, or Hill County, give us a call at 254-296-0020, or fill out the contact form on this site.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 35 years.