The Student Government Association (SGA) held a Learn Your Rights town hall meeting last night to explain confusion on what legal rights students have on and off campus.
Nicole Tardif, freshman SGA communications director, said the Learn Your Rights campaign stemmed from the town hall meeting the SGA held last month that opened a dialogue between University of Mary Washington students and the Fredericksburg community.
“Students have expressed an interest in learning their legal rights,” she said.
“I was at the last town hall meeting and asked about what our rights are,” said junior political science major Kate Miceli.
Miceli said she attended this event due to her personal confusion about her rights. “I’m curious as to, as a 20 year old, what my rights are,” she said.
Sophomore Stephanie Preston, SGA involvement and outreach coordinator helped to organize the event in response to students’ concerns.
“A lot of times when students come to college they don’t know what kind of rights they have,” said Preston. “They are not aware of what they can and can’t do.”
The meeting, which lasted about an hour, consisted of a question and answer session between students and UMW police lieutenant Michael Hall. Stacey T. Garcia and Thomas B. Dance, both attorneys at law in Fredericksburg, made up the rest of the panel.
Students at the event were able to ask questions, as well as questions sent in through Facebook.
Among the questions asked were what rights a student has if they are found in possession of alcohol underage.
The panel said the most probable outcome would be a misdemeanor charge of underage possession.
“You’ll probably be given community service,” said Garcia. “You’re not going to go to jail.”
Garcia stated that the charge will go on a person’s permanent record, but the severity of consequence depends on the jurisdiction.
“District courts are trying to be more understanding,” said Garcia. “Everyone is a human being. We’ve all been college kids before.”
She stated that if a defendant is a “good kid with good grades that has not been in trouble before,” then their chances are much better.
Regarding the recent nusiance complaints, Hall said, “It’s not just your neighbors. The city of Fredericksburg has noise ordinances.”
Hall called out the media for publishing isolated incidents and enhancing the idea that UMW is an out-of-hand party school.
“People drive things to the front page that makes it appear worse,” said Hall.
Garcia added that the crime rate has remained at a constant rate over the years.
Hall told the students that compared to other schools, “you’re all saints.”
“Can you tell the city of Fredericksburg that?” asked Miceli in return.
Hall said the Fredericksburg community does not hate the students of UMW.
He said, “It’s about being respectful to people and using common sense.”
Another question asked was whether police have special search and seizure privileges over to students who live on campus.
Hall said that in most situations, the university residence life would act as an agent of the police.
“Housing at the university has policies and procedures,” said Hall. “If you’re on this campus, you’re under this property’s jurisdiction.”
This gives residence life the power to search rooms. From that point, any criminal evidence found is passed along to police.
Hall stated that for the police to search a room they must follow the procedure of the law.
“If we’re coming into a room we’re going to get a search warrant,” said Hall.
He said that obtaining a search warrant will avoid any complications as to the police’s rights to search a room.
According to Hall, residence life has the right to search rooms without a warrant, not the police.
“I’m safer by that piece of paper,” he said.
In response to questions about a student’s rights involving a party broken up by the police Garcia said, “If a party is being broken up, an officer has the right to talk to anyone there.”
She stated that if a police officer smells alcohol on someone, it gives them probable cause to search and seize that student.
The panel went on to discuss that if hosts of a party take precautions to ensure that no one underage drinks, they can use that to help their defense.
Dance stated that the best way to prevent trouble is by, “using common sense and being safe and being smart.”
Tardif stated that despite the 14 student turn out, she thought the event was successful.
“It was definitely an engaged crowd,” said Tardif. “I think the panel was very helpful.”
When asked why he chose to participate in the panel, Hall said he likes the idea of having “[an] open dialogue in a positive setting so when we’re in a negative setting [students] know what my roles and responsibilities are.”
He said it is important to educate students in a controlled setting and to “show the students we’re human and approachable. We’re not the enemy.”
Junior Clarke Birrello, currently an intern for Dance, helped get Dance a spot on the panel.
“He likes to give to the community and the school,” said Birrello. “He did this as a favor to the school.”
This is the last major event the 2011-2012 SGA Executive Cabinet is holding this school year.
Tardif stated that continuing efforts to rectify the relationship between students and the Fredericksburg community “will be the next administration’s job.”