University Life, Alcohol,
and Virginia Law Enforcement

The New Prohibitionists

If you have recently sent a son or daughter to Radford University or to Virginia Tech, you may be unaware of some significant changes relating to law enforcement and student discipline that have taken place since your own days as a student.

Both Virginia Tech and RU (and the police forces of Radford and Blacksburg) have adopted draconian policies toward underage alcohol possession and appearing in public after drinking. Both local police forces appear to view these offenses as prime revenue generators for their communities and departments, and, as a result, they put a great deal of effort into enforcing these laws at every opportunity.

The days of police officers confiscating beer from underage students and sending them off with a warning are over. If an adult under the age of twenty-one is found to have been drinking, or is in possession of any alcoholic beverages, they will be given a summons and charged with a misdemeanor criminal offense. If the person is in any location that is visible to members of the public and manifests any outward signs of intoxication (or disagrees with, or otherwise offends the police officer) they can expect to be charged with being drunk in public, another misdemeanor criminal offense.

Virginia Never Forgets

Virginia's legal system is surprisingly unforgiving when it comes to trivial offenses involving alcohol. A conviction of any misdemeanor alcohol offense will result in a lifetime criminal record. Unlike traffic violations, misdemeanor convictions never “drop off” a person's record and can never be expunged from their record.

The lifetime criminal history is the worst negative consequence of an alcohol-related criminal charge. There are other significant consequences as well. Both Tech and RU have elements within their student governments who ensure that any student who is charged with underage alcohol possession or being intoxicated in public faces student discipline charges as well. The discipline can occur whether or not the behavior occurs on campus. These disciplinary proceedings can result in anything up to suspension or expulsion.

Drink a Beer before Age 21; Send Us a Check or Lose Your Freedom

Finally, there is the financial and liberty cost of a misdemeanor conviction. If a person is convicted of underage alcohol possession, the Court has the right to impose a jail sentence of up to twelve months, and a fine of up to $2,500.00. There is a mandatory minimum fine of $500.00. The law also requires that an adult who is convicted of underage possession of alcohol must have their driver's license suspended for at least six months. These penalties are in addition to the approximately $80.00 to $200.00 in court costs that the court will impose.

Even if a defendant is able to have their case resolved as a first offender, (without a conviction) they still face court costs, community service and fees payable to the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP). VASAP fees for a first offense are typically in excess of $200.00. The first offender program also requires the defendant to pay court costs.

In addition, while the first offender program does not result in a conviction, your entry into it may result in a permanent entry into your criminal record if it is not handled correctly.

What Can I Do?

If you or your son or daughter is charged with an alcohol-related offense, you cannot afford to take it lightly or to treat it as you would a traffic ticket. While you may be allowed to prepay the fine, doing so constitutes an admission of guilt and will cause you or your child to have a criminal history that can never be erased. Even if you are positive that you are guilty, the United States Constitution requires that the government prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Because you are presumed innocent and because our Courts recognize your rights not to be arrested or charged without probable cause, you may have legal or technical defenses that you are not able to recognize. A trained, experienced lawyer can help you recognize those defenses and, even if there are no defenses, help you avoid the lifelong stigma of a criminal conviction by negotiating some other resolution of the case with the government. Regardless of how insignificant you believe the issue is now, you should seek legal advice before you acknowledge guilt of any crime.