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Student arrests crest during spring break months

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | MARCH 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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Before students jet off to Panama City Beach, Cancún, or Europe, University of Iowa officials want to make sure the week of freedom doesn’t turn into a firsthand look at a jail cell.

And, “you don’t want to end up in a Mexican jail,” said Greg Bal, the supervising attorney for the UI Student Legal Services.

Student Legal Services, which provides free consultation and legal advice to university students, sees a spike in visits directly after spring break, Bal said.

The department saw 95 students in March and 83 in April in 2009 — compared with 69 in February and 63 in May. Many of these cases were spring break-related and were often alcohol or drug charges, particularly marijuana, he said.

He noted that the legal service can only represent the accused in Johnson County. People facing charges in a different state or country are subject to the laws of that place, he said.

Some UI students are well aware of the risk.

Megan Shipley, 21, recounted her spring break trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a sophomore. Because she was 19 at the time, she said, one of the main goals of the trip was avoiding the areas that police patrolled.

“We wanted to figure out where we could go without getting caught,” the UI senior said.

Bal also advised students to be well aware of the laws at their travel destinations.

UI police crime-prevention specialist Brad Allison told students to be aware of those who visit spring break hot-spots to prey on travelers. The criminals scam, trick, rob, and assault spring breakers, according to the UI news release “Spring-Break Safety.”

One of the most popular destinations, Mexico, was recently placed on Travel Alert by the U.S Department of State because of increased violence. Officials are urging citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to parts of the country. The department also provides a list of tips for young travelers visiting Mexico called “Know Before You Go.”

Panama City Beach, Fla., is a popular destination for college students, and officials there plan accordingly, said Jean Meale of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

Meale said officials work with local law enforcement to prepare for one of the busiest months of the year.

Florida saw 1,146 charges of underage possession of alcohol in March 2009, more than twice the number in October, the second highest month. Possession of fraudulent identification was also considerably higher in March with 71 cases.

If arrested in Florida, students are issued a notice to appear, which skips jail time but is just as serious, Meale said.

“It’s an arrest minus the handcuffs,” she said.

Even though enforcement is strong, students will show up— with caution.

Meale encourages students to have a good time during spring break but to have that good time responsibly.

“Of course, we welcome all students to Florida,” Meale said. “All spring breakers are reminded that Florida law certainly applies to them.”


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