Partying, Police, and Public Intoxication: A Collegiette's Guide

You're at a party. 

The music is blaring, a drink in hand, you're next in line for a raging beer pong tournament, and the cutie from your Microeconomics class has finally managed to glance your way. 

Everything seems great--until the cops show up. 

Depending on your age and the other factors at play, there are many risks to underage partying,

Her Campus sat down with a Chicagoland police officer of 25 years and now sheriff, Officer B.*, to discuss some of the questions that might come up regarding college partying and bars. One overarching theme of the conversation with the sheriff was that your behavior consistently affects how the police will treat you and how quickly the offenses can escalate.

“A lot of times, it’s up to our discretion,” says Officer B. “It kind of depends on your behavior and how you react and act. If we find that you’re under 21, but are acting compliant, you’ll most likely just get charged with a misdemeanor in accordance with local ordinances.”

“But if you’re acting up and being confrontational, the police will more likely charge you will get a state charge. If you’re charged by the state, the misdemeanor goes on your record. An ordinance charge doesn’t go on your record, a state charge will. This can affect you when applying for jobs.”

In short, the cardinal rule for dealing with the police is to obey any and all directions that the officer may give. Do not become abrasive, violent, or argumentative because it can and will affect the outcome of the situation.

Her Campus decided to look into more of the most frequently occurring situations regarding college students and the law. From peeing in public to fake ID’s, here’s what we found:

Parties and Alcohol

If the police come to a party, there are several different ways the situation could play out.

If the party is charging money per cup at the door, the police will usually start by getting witnesses to identify who sold them the cup, the owner of the house, or the person in charge. The party’s host can get charged with a state crime for providing alcohol without a liquor license. The fines can be astronomical, and they could face up to a year in jail.

On the other hand, if nobody is charging for alcohol at the party, it is still a local ordinance violation.

And those posted signs that say “No Alcohol if Under 21”?

They’re pretty much meaningless.

No matter the situation, most likely everyone at the party will have to show their IDs. While people who are 21 and over cannot be punished for consumption, underage drinkers can be.

Says Officer B., “The police don’t have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that people have been drinking, so they start taking IDs. If you’re underage, you will get ticketed.”

The fines for consumpation of alcohol by a minor depend on the city or the campus. 

This also goes for underage people at the party who have not been drinking.

“You can be there, and you can still get in trouble,” says Officer B. “Even if you’re not drinking, you can still be issued a citation. The police are just going to treat all underage people at the party the same, and it would be up to you to prove before a judge that you haven’t been drinking.”

Peeing in Public

One myth about peeing in public is that you can be charged with indecent exposure or punished as a sex offender. In reality, the factors that surround the situation in which you relieve yourself depend on how you are dealt with.

“Most likely, if an officer sees you peeing outside, and no else is around, you’ll be charged with disorderly conduct and issued a citation,” says Officer B.

However, if there are other people around, such as families, or, if you make a lewd gesture towards the police officer or anyone else present, then you could be charged with indecent exposure.

Fake IDs

If you’re caught with a fake ID, the biggest problem is that you can be arrested for “obstructing justice” and charged with a misdemeanor. Then, if you are underage, you will still get a drinking ticket. The fines can go for about $100 or more, and you can be charged with the misdemeanor, possibly resulting in up to a year in jail.

“Basically, giving us false information stops us from being able to do our job,” says Officer B.

Many students wonder if it’s worse to get caught with a fake ID that is really you, but has been counterfeited, or one that is real but actually someone else who is 21.

The truth is that one is not necessarily worse than the other. It is just a different procedure that police would follow to deal with the crime.

“The biggest concern is if there’s some type of ring going on with counterfeit ID’s,” said Officer B., “You end up taking the fall for someone else.”

If the ID you have is that of someone older, say a brother or sister, they could be charged with contributing to a minor depending on whether or not they confirm or deny giving away the ID. Having their ID most likely would not be considered identity theft, because you wouldn’t be stealing their entire identity; an identity theft charge would include using their Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit cards, etc.

If You ARE 21

If you are 21 and at a party/bar and consuming alcohol when the cops come, nothing can really happen to you. If you are of legal age, the only problems that could arise from your intoxication would be disorderly conduct or battery.

That is, once again, provided you are not providing alcohol to minors.

If you provide alcohol to minors, whether it be at a house party or buying it for them for their own personal use, you can get charged with “contributing” and be pinned for illegal sales.

This is because places like bars and liquor stores operate under dram shop liability. In the event these establishments over-serve visibly intoxicated people or minors, and something happens to that person and they choose to sue, the establishment is held liable.

A regular citizen without a liquor license can lose everything if the minor you sold to is harmed and then sues you. You’re assuming a huge risk in providing to that minor.

In the Aggregate

It is important to note that these charges and penalties can vary by state, county, and campus, but overall, they are a pretty good indicator of the liabilities people face when out partying. While this is by no means a comprehensive or conclusive list, it is important that students know their rights in these situations, as well as the laws and charges they face.

Once again, this article cannot be used as legal advice, but it is a guideline for some of the questions college students have asked before they set out on the weekend in search of fun.

For more advice on the risks that students at the University of Notre Dame specifically may face, check out this article.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.


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