As students prepare to travel for spring break, Student Legal Services and the Purdue University Police Department have offered advice to minimize risk during exchanges with law enforcement.
Director of SLS Leslie Charters suggested that students research their destinations before traveling.
“It’s important to understand state laws regarding marijuana, possession of alcohol by minors and public intoxication, because these laws may vary state to state,” Charters said.
Some states are more strict than others, she said, so something allowed in Indiana may be outlawed in other regions.
Because students sometimes rent cars during their spring break travels, Charters encouraged students to check with their automobile insurer to see if additional insurance is necessary. She said students should use a credit card for rentals because many contracts have built-in insurance coverage.
“Know if you’re covered,” she said. “This is something students often overlook.”
SLS lists additional legal advice on its social media pages for students.
When it comes to interactions with law enforcement, Charters suggested that students be compliant, but know their rights.
“Be respectful but know that you do have the right to say nothing,” Charters said. “You can respectfully tell an officer, ‘I know you’re just doing your job, but I decline to say anything else without a lawyer present.’”
PUPD Capt. Song Kang said that students don’t have to tell officers anything.
“We don’t take it personally when students exercise their rights. However, the scene of the incident is not a trial,” Kang said. “There is no need for you to argue or make your case.”
Kang warned that arguing with law enforcement could escalate the situation. Instead, he said students should be courteous when protecting their rights and seek counsel from lawyers after the incident.
If students resist arrest, Kang said that police officers have the right to exercise force.
“We do have the legal right to exercise necessary force — not excessive force — but necessary force, which depends on the situation,” Kang said. “It’s never a good idea to run away or resist because you're scared, because this makes things more complicated.”
Running from or fighting law enforcement warrants an additional charge and can exacerbate otherwise minor infractions.
Kang said that students should comply with the officer at the scene, document the incident and file a complaint separately, if they feel they have been treated unfairly.
“Sometimes an officer must take control of a scene, and there may be an urgent matter you don’t know about,” Kang said. “You could be the wrong person at the wrong time.”
Charters said SLS assists students during the expungement process, which allows people who are convicted to erase charges from their record after a certain time period has passed.
In Indiana, if a minor infraction results in charges that are dismissed or resolved through a diversion agreement, the defendant can request expungement one year after a case is filed. For misdemeanors, the wait period is five years, and eight for felonies.
“The expungement process varies by state, and some states don’t allow for expungement, so this is another law you may want to look up before you travel,” Charters added.
PUPD, recognizing the negative perceptions arrests can create, is working to improve relations outside of its normal capacity as law enforcement. Kang coordinates community outreach events and informative presentations to bridge gaps between officers and citizens.
“It’s important to build that relationship with students and people before incidents happen,” Kang said. “It’s important to realize that officers are human too, and it’s important for officers to have empathy. The relationship goes both ways. Officers should understand who they are serving, and people should understand they don’t need to be intimidated.”