By Attorneys Tom Prestia and Scott Holtz
Special to THELAW.TV
Spring break is here. A week when the dreams of college kids across the country and the nightmares of far too many parents come true. While their children are excited for the alcohol, partying, and fun-in-the-sun, parents feverishly bite their fingernails worrying about the "what if" question. What if something goes wrong and my kid ends up in trouble with the law?
Here are five things you should keep in mind as your kids head off to the beach and all points sunny:
1. If you made a mistake, don't make things worse.
Flowing booze, young college kids, and warm weather, it's a dangerous cocktail that mixed in the right proportions can lead to all manner of bar fights and beach scrapes. A lot of them end up as classic YouTube fodder (something else you might want to remind your child about). But the old adage remains true: it's all fun and games until the police get involved. Remind your children that once the uniforms show up or the sirens blare, they shouldn't make things worse for themselves by trying to be a hero to their friends or make "a political statement." The only thing that comes out of that is a bigger headache in the form of additional charges, such as resisting an officer with violence (a felony), resisting an officer without violence (a misdemeanor), or obstruction of justice (a misdemeanor).
2. Avoid having to make a return trip that isn't for a vacation.
Most jurisdictions will not allow someone charged with a crime to plea in absentia (that is, without being present in the courtroom at the time of sentencing) and, in many jurisdictions, even if you arrange to dispose of a case by means of a diversion program (where you complete some community service hours, pay for any damages you caused, etc.), you might be allowed to complete the program out-of-state, but you also might be required to enroll in the program in person. Not such a big problem if you live in Miami and made a mistake in the Florida Keys. However, it can get pretty expensive having to fly back-and-forth from Milwaukee to Daytona Beach several times to take care of a legal problem.
3. They call it "jail bait" for a reason.
It's safe to say if your kids are the type that are heading to a spring break hot spot this year, there's a chance they might meet someone and strike up a casual relationship. The differences in appearance between 16 and 19 (or even 20-year-old kids) have increasingly blurred. So, Junior needs to be extra careful when offering to buy the cute girl a drink (if she's under 18, that's Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor, usually a misdemeanor), and especially careful if he takes someone back to his hotel room. The law doesn't care how old she said she was or how old he thought she was. If she's underage, your son (or daughter) could be in a world of trouble, one that could even end in him (or her) having to register as a sex offender (depending on the circumstances and charges).
4. Weed isn't legal, everywhere, yet (not even medicinally).
Seems like a pretty obvious concept, but if your son or daughter is the type to enjoy a puff or five every now and again, then it's definitely something you should keep reminding them. The State of California may say that since you have "anxiety," you can legally possess a small amount of the good stuff. However, overworked and exhausted Florida police officers who deal with these party goers every year will show no compassion and arrest your kid quicker than they can exhale that next puff. While the punishments set forth by the State Attorney's Office are relaxed in places such as Miami, other areas, even just a few miles further north, such as Fort Lauderdale, treat simple possession of marijuana cases extremely differently, and, depending on the situation, may prosecute to the fullest extent the law allows.
5. Bring back a t-shirt, not a DUI.
Most people think the biggest problem with getting a DUI is facing jail time. However, potential jail time is merely the tip of the iceberg. In addition to sleeping next to Bubba for the night, your kid is also facing the hassles of having his/her license suspended or revoked, the extraordinary expenses the court system imposes, and having to complete all the probation requirements, such as school and community service hours. However, the biggest problem with getting a DUI is that it follows you like the plague, and as your number of DUIs goes up, the penalties grow stiffer and stiffer, until you're looking at a felony and doing hard time in a state prison. What you need to tell your kids (in addition to the obvious, that such a crime is entirely avoidable by a small amount of planning) is that if they get a DUI while on spring break, even in a different state, the record will still be transmitted to their state of residence and put on their driving record there. That DUI will follow them all the way back to school and for the rest of their lives. It's much better to bring back a different kind of souvenir.
The authors, Tom Prestia and Scott Holtz, are criminal defense and personal injury attorneys in West Palm Beach, Florida
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