Students and the Law - Know the consequences before you act.

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Read it in the West Seattle Blog

(Excerpt from Blog) June 14, 2012

The 2nd half of the meeting featured a presentation by criminal-defense lawyers Geoffrey Burg and Patricia Fulton, who said their goal was to educate people before laws were broken. They had already given the presentation to CSIHS students, whom, Burg quipped, had asked “some fairly sophisticated questions.” The goal of Burg's presentation: “Know the consequences before you act.” He started by myth busting:

Myth: "I'll just tell police the whole story and it will be OK.” Reality: “Talking to the police may not be the best thing to do. Never lie! Remain silent."

Myth: “I'm under 18, so my case will be in juvi court. It's no big deal.” Reality: Not all cases are in juvi and ALL cases are a BIG deal.

Myth: “No one will know about it because I wasn't convicted.” Reality: All cases filed in court are public records and easily available to the public, often on the internet.

He discussed the two levels of crimes- misdemeanor and felony. Outcomes: Guilty (plea or trial); plea bargaining; dismissals. Types of court: “General crimes” are in juvenile court, but traffic crimes all go to adult court, assuming the child is 16 or older. Certain very serious crimes could go to adult court if juvenile court is “declined.”

Common Crimes for Juveniles

Common crimes for which juveniles are arrested: Alcohol & drugs, criminal traffic, shoplifting/theft, and assault. This is where Fulton took over. She talked about “minor in possession” and “minor in consumption” (of alcohol) charges that might be brought against kids. Some Eastside cities in particular take them very seriously, she noted. These are “gross misdemeanors,” which could lead to sentences up to 364 days. They also could lose their driver's license for up to a year, even if the offense didn't involve their car. Furnishing alcohol to minors also is a crime – unless the minor is their child and consumes the alcohol in their presence.

If police show up and say they'd like to come in – but don't have a warrant – you have the right to refuse to allow them in, and you can say something like “I'd like to talk to my lawyer first.” That's also what they advise you tell your children to say if a police officer asks them questions – provided there are not circumstances of immediate danger.

Driving Offenses

Minor DUIs: If you're under 21 and you have a blood-alcohol content of .02 to .79, you might be charged with this misdemeanor. There may be license consequences, and insurance too. If the underage driver's blood-alcohol content is at least .08 – or if they are found to be impaired, whatever the level – they could be charged with a full-size DUI. That brings mandatory jail time, license loss, and an interlock (breath-testing) device on your car for at least a year.

Reckless driving: The definition is fairly vague, she noted, and it  doesn't necessarily involving speeding, might even involving “embracing” while driving. It's a gross misdemeanor – and it could carry immigration consequences for non-US citizens.

Regarding marijuana: It is still technically illegal, she pointed out, under both federal and local law. She mentioned having a young client who was actually charged in federal court with possessing a small amount of marijuana. Anything over 40 grams in Seattle is a felony; or, any amount for sale or delivery is a felony. Possessing paraphernalia is a misdemeanor. If you are convicted of possessing marijuana or paraphernalia, you must serve at least a day in jail. There are student-loan eligibility consequences for drug-crime history.

Fake ID: That's a crime.

Theft: Shoplifting also comes under this term, which is broken into “three different degrees based on the value of what is stolen,” she said. Third degree, less than $750; second degree, $750-$5,000; first degree, $5,000 (second and first degree are both felonies).

Assault: Wide definition – she said she had seen someone charged with it for throwing water on someone. Domestic violence are most common – meaning that the two people involved have a family or dating relationship (roommates are included). “The courts take domestic-violence cases very very seriously and so does law enforcement,” she said, mentioning the “mandatory arrest” policy. The officers have no choice but to arrest them and take them to jail if there is probable causes, she said – and there they will remain until brought in front of a judge (which could span an entire weekend, she noted).

Any type of crime, she summarized, should be assumed to be public record. If you deal with police, respectfully insist on exercising your rights. That includes what she said is very important – the right to remain silent. There may be good reasons that they will be exonerated, but those are easier to explain later when they have the help of a lawyer, she said. Even if a lawyer is not available at 2 in the morning – these two said bluntly they're not on call around the clock – a public defender is on call and available 24/7. The teen needs to say “I need to speak with a lawyer.” NOT their parent – they do NOT necessarily have the right to talk with their parent. And if they do talk with a parent, the lawyers suggested, keep in mind – “anything your child tells you, you can be called to testify about … anything your child tells the lawyer, they cannot be called to testify about.

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