About Drug Charges in Rochester, NY For College Students

Students at any of the nine colleges in Rochester, NY should be aware of the risks of drug charges for possession. A few college-age drug arrests are large drug trafficking matters. Sometimes a college student is near the top of the pyramid, and sometimes, a student is a mule.

On the other end of the scale, a few college-age drug arrests are PODP (possession of drug paraphernalia) matters. Police usually press these charges when they suspect drug use but cannot prove anything more serious. Drug possession arrests, which account for almost 90 percent of the drug crimes in New York, are in the middle. So, we’ll focus on drug possession arrests in this post for the most part.

Drug possession crimes are notorious for their harsh direct and indirect consequences. Even a misdemeanor drug possession conviction usually means a high fine and extended court supervision. These indirect consequences could include loss of financial aid, academic probation, or even expulsion for college students. A Rochester criminal defense attorney is well-positioned to reduce or eliminate these harsh negative consequences.

Academic Disciplinary Proceedings

Colleges and universities often launch disciplinary proceedings following a drug possession arrest or, more frequently, after a drug possession conviction. The possible sanctions usually include loss of financial aid, academic probation, removal of privileges, like dismissal from a fraternity or sorority, or even dismissal from the institution.

Before the college or university takes such action, the institution usually must give the student notice of the proceedings and an opportunity to be heard. That’s especially true at public colleges and universities. Private universities are not technically subject to the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process of law clause.

These disciplinary hearings are usually a lot like sentencing hearings. Judges typically don’t want to hear about extenuating circumstances at a criminal court sentencing hearing. Instead, they want to hear defendants are sorry for the way they acted, they have made some life changes, and they won’t make the same mistake twice.

Some disciplinary matters are a bit different. For example, some federal financial aid programs disqualify applicants with criminal convictions. As outlined below, a Rochester criminal defense lawyer can take care of the conviction record even if the defendant pleads guilty. So, when students are asked if they have prior criminal convictions, they can honestly answer “no.”

Criminal Proceedings

Frequently, the best defense is a good offense. That aphorism is true in this context. An aggressive defense in criminal court is usually the best way to deal with academic disciplinary proceedings. Drug possession cases have three basic requirements:

  • Produce the Substance: Police officers rarely have search warrants when they make drug possession arrests. Therefore, a narrow search warrant exception, such as contraband in plain view or owner’s consent to search, must apply. The state must prove the exception was legit.
  • Prove it was Illegal: You cannot judge a book by its cover. Substances that look like drugs aren’t always drugs. In 2019, a Georgia college student was arrested for cocaine possession. A laboratory test proved the “cocaine” was actually bird poop.
  • Establish Possession: Proximity by itself doesn’t establish possession in a New York criminal court. The state must also prove knowledge and control. These additional elements are very difficult to prove, especially in automobile drug possession cases. It’s not easy to connect a defendant in the back seat with drugs under the front seat.

Prosecutors must establish all three points beyond any reasonable doubt. That’s the highest burden of proof in New York law. Circumstantial evidence alone usually isn’t enough, especially regarding the last two bullet points.

Post-Conviction Relief

New York has a very limited record expungement and sealing law that doesn’t apply to most drug possession cases. But defendants still have legal options in this area.

We talked about one such option above. Judges have almost unlimited discretion to grant deferred disposition probation instead of regular probation. If the defendant successfully completes deferred disposition probation, the judge dismisses the case, so there’s no conviction record.

Probation is easier to complete if the judge cuts probation short successfully. Once again, judges have a lot of discretion in this area.

According to the New York Code of Criminal Procedure, a judge could sentence a defendant to probation one day and discharge probation the next day.

Many college students and other defendants don’t think an executive pardon is a legitimate option. But the facts suggest otherwise.

Former President Barack Obama pardoned thousands of former drug possession defendants. Suppose a New York governor feels that drugs are a health and safety issue instead of a criminal law issue, and many people feel this way. In that case, an executive pardon is a real possibility.

Concerned About Drug Charges in Rochester NY? Consult An Experienced Attorney

Drug charges need not derail your college career. For a free consultation with an experienced Rochester criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi. Virtual, after-hours, and jail visits are available.

The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.

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