Offices focus on students’ rights

By Maria Tortorello

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on underage drinking at NIU. Today’s article focuses on students’ rights concerning the issue.

With the pressure on all the heavy drinkers at NIU, outlets are available to help those under siege handle the stress.

According to NIU Ombudsman Tim Griffin, the Ombudsman’s Office will help those who feel their rights have been violated and answer questions about the university alcohol policy.

“We are more informal, not judicial,” Griffin said. “We assist students by letting them know what rights they have.”

As stated in Monday’s article in The Northern Star, the Judicial Office is putting a tighter hold on underage drinkers at NIU by strengthening its laws.

If underage students are caught drinking, first-time offenders are fined $50 and referred to Students Understanding Drinking, Drugs and Self (SUDDS), the alcohol awareness program on campus.

Students caught a second time are referred to the Counseling and Student Development Center for an alcohol assessment and are charged $50.

However, for more serious offenses of alcohol abuse, such as false identification of a person’s age, students are given the right to consult with an attorney. That’s where the Students Legal Assistance Office, located in the basement of the Holmes Student Center, comes into play.

If a student is charged by the police, an attorney from the office counsels the student and provides the appropriate legal assistance, said Don Henderson, director of the Students’ Legal Assistance Office.

“Under state law and according to the Constitution, a person is innocent until proven guilty,” Henderson said.

The Students’ Legal Assistance Office receives cases such as being caught with an open container of alcohol, consuming alcohol, entering an area that serves alcohol as a minor and misusing a driver’s license.

“We get a fair number of cases throughout the year and we advise students on all matters,” Henderson said.

Henderson pointed out that for more serious charges, a case may seem to be settled through extensive fines. However, the secretary of state takes individual administrative action if convicted during the trial stage, even if the court matter is solved.

“It is true the city and state are providing enhanced fines for alcohol, and the secretary of state does take action on situations such as false identification. People need to be aware of that,” Henderson said.

Since the serious offenses, such as being charged for false identification, are widespread practices around campus, students feel less likely to get caught.

“The idea of having a false ID is, ‘Since others do it, I can do it and not get into trouble,'” Henderson said. “It’s not like that at all.”

Although the laws might be getting more strict, Henderson said it is difficult to tell what knd of an effect this will have on the number of cases involving underage drinking.

“My job isn’t to support or condemn legal conduct and it is not my case to condemn students,” Henderson said. “Have a good time, but the law is the law and it is getting increasingly severe.”