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Students learn ‘don’t get busted’

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | SEPTEMBER 17, 2009 7:20 AM

Before Wednesday night, Paige Preissler was unaware she doesn’t have to identify herself to police.

Many UI students didn’t know that either.

Nor do they know they can be charged simply for having a fake ID, even if an officer doesn’t see them use it. Or that they can refuse a preliminary breath test.

That’s why Greg Bal, supervising attorney for Student Legal Services, hosted the annual Don’t Get Busted event Wednesday evening for hundreds of UI students.

This is the third year he has given the presentation, and each year, the number of students attending has increased. This year, 432 students sat in the IMU ballroom, and around 400 of them were fraternity or sorority members.

While the purpose of the event was to keep students from breaking the law, making sure they know their rights during police encounters is also important, Bal said.

“Know the law. Don’t break the law. Know and exercise your rights,” read a slide of Bal’s presentation.

Companies and graduate school officials are increasingly checking for criminal records during the application process, Bal said. And in the current economy where jobs are scarce and applicants are increasing, a conviction could be what tips the balance.

That means the PAULA you got freshman year could cost you — again and again.

Yet, Bal said he has seen many students unnecessarily plead guilty or consent to searches. Neither is required, but both are nearly impossible to undo.

If students do break the law, Bal recommends not consenting to a search, not pleading guilty, and going to Student Legal Services for a free consultation as soon as possible.

“The worst thing you can do is plead guilty,” Bal said. “It’s impossible to reverse.”

Knowing the law is particularly important on a campus where so many students are from out of state — and about half of those in attendance were from Illinois.

In Illinois, an alcohol violation is akin to a traffic ticket, but in Iowa, it is a criminal offense.

Bal said his office is always busiest at the beginning of each school year as students learn Iowa City’s ordinances.

For students, the event was a chance to learn to avoid trouble.

UI freshman Samantha Beckman said she is nervous about being arrested in Iowa City, though she has never been charged before.

Preissler said as a student, and one who goes downtown, it’s important to know the law.

“You always have that insecurity,” Preissler said. “But if you’re smart, you tend to be less worried.”

UI police Crime Prevention Specialist Brad Allison began the presentation by explaining the police perspective.

He pointed out that in the hundreds of people streaming through downtown around bar close, students charged with public intoxication generally have to attract the attention of the officer.

Bal followed Allison, talking about consent, what to do if arrested and what is admissible in court.

Both men also stressed the dangers of extreme intoxication — citing recent assaults and a murder — and Bal pointed out the high number of deaths in alcohol-related car accidents.

While Bal hoped the event would discourage students from breaking the law, the majority of questions — both during the event and after — centered around what to do after getting caught.


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