First-time alcohol offenders should receive a second chance


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As an 18-year-old freshman, you come to the UI with the hopes of getting a good education and finding a great job after graduation. Unfortunately, you make a mistake and drink alcohol in a bar, resulting in a PAULA citation. Just like that, your chances of getting into that coveted law school drop precipitously.

But this unfair scenario could soon change.

The Iowa Legislature is considering a bill that would allow 18- to 20-year-olds convicted of alcohol-related offenses to erase those crimes from their records after two years. The individual could not accrue any other serious criminal charges during that time.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, had mixed feelings about the legislation.

“On the one hand, I don’t have a quarrel with the bill,” he said. “One violation shouldn’t prevent you from going to law school.”

However, Bolkcom said, he is unsure how cognizant students are about the decisions they make on Friday nights.

“There is a serious lack of accountability by students on alcohol,” he said.

The Iowa City senator is right to question the intentions and awareness of UI students concerning alcohol.

The most common student offense, PAULA, could be expunged from an individual’s record if he or she petitioned the court. The Iowa City police issued 819 PAULA citations in 2009. That high number reinforces the destructive stereotype that suggests UI students are ambivalent to any possible legal consequences.

But passing this bill would give students a second chance at making the right choices for the future.

Students would have to maintain a clean record for two years after their offense, setting a pattern of responsible and ethical behavior that would serve them well in the future. And while underage drinking is serious, one misguided decision should not torpedo a student’s postgraduate career.

Current Iowa law permits criminal records of minors to be expunged. Allowing the same leniency for one-time offenders would be appropriate as well. We must allow young adults to learn from their mistakes instead of penalizing them. Such an action may hinder their ability to become thriving members of society —especially when they’re graduating students.

According to a study by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, there are 22 professions that may be denied to college graduates if they are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony related to alcohol.

In addition, the bill would not give those with habitual alcohol offenses a way to escape their punishment — repeat offenders would still be prosecuted, and they could not have their past offenses removed.

It’s difficult to justify retaining a small blemish on students’ records, especially when it blocks their entrance into a graduate or law school. Second chances are hard to come by. But this bill would rightly afford alcohol offenders the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and not be limited by the past.

We urge legislators to pass this bill.

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