Drug-related offenses lack legal ramifications

Spare the rod, you know what happens. But, then again, maybe that’s just an old, hackneyed phrase, and maybe reality is a bit less obvious.Five drug-related incidents haven’t left a morsel of legal ramification aside from their presence on the Tennessee Tech crime report.

“It’s kids doing this stuff,” Police Chief Gay Shepherd said. “You don’t want to give them a criminal record for life for something silly if we can handle it in-house.”

Shepherd says Tech has an agreement with the Putnam County district attorney that allows the university to handle on-campus drug offenses.

“If they’ve got two or three ounces, though, they’re going to jail.”

During the winter doldrums of mid-January, New Hall South, Evins Hall, Maddux Hall, Cooper Hall and Browning Hall were all tainted by the faint, balmy scent of marijuana. Most of the incidents were reported to University Police by resident assistants or hall directors.

The biggest find was in Browning Hall, where Officer Randy Thompson found a half-ounce of marijuana, a grinder, pipes, and a blunt cutter. Upon questioning, all of the residents in question admitted to smoking the substance, with the exception of one. The Cooper Hall resident initially denied the accusation, despite the storage bag sealed over his smoke detector.

“I discussed the state law and campus rules about marijuana and decided not to press criminal charges,” Thompson said in one report. “I then referred the resident to the dean of students for disciplinary action.”

When drinkers and tokers come into his office, Ed Boucher, dean of students, tends to be lenient.

“I’m a student advocate,” Boucher said. “My main concern is that your rights are not being violated.”

The Dean’s private meeting with a student is treated as a preliminary hearing of sorts. The student can choose to let Boucher single-handedly decide the case, or he/she can appear before a student or faculty hearing panel.

“Ninety-nine percent of them let me decide,” Boucher said. “There have been times when the student panel only hears one or two cases the entire year.”

At such a hearing, the student in question is granted the same due process rights he would have in a criminal court. The difference is, he is either convicted “responsible” or “not responsible” and nothing is written on his criminal record.

When Boucher has to decide what disciplinary action, if any, to take, he ensures the sanction fits the violation.

“Some people don’t understand,” he said. “They expect crucifixions on the South Patio. That’s not what we’re about.”

Generally, if it’s less than a half-ounce and the student’s first offense, a verbal reprimand or a year of probation is the punishment of choice. If it’s the second offense, Boucher usually upgrades to a year of suspension.

“The third time, we don’t want you at the school,” Boucher said.

University Police typically arrests students in possession of more than a half-ounce.

“I’m not heavy-handed,” Boucher said. “I think if you ask around, I’m not.”

The January cases, however, involved several students with previous drug-related charges. Boucher said he plans to meet with them this month to hear their stories. And if Boucher suspends them, they won’t be getting refunds on their residency payments.

“We’re not a welfare agency,” Boucher said. “In judicial action, there’s no refund.”

Here’s what the student handbook says about disciplinary jurisdiction:

“Students are subject to all national, state, and local laws and ordinances. If a student’s violation of such laws or ordinances also adversely affects the institution’s pursuit of its educational objectives, the institution may enforce its own regulations regardless of any proceedings instituted by other authorities. Conversely, violation of any section of these regulations may subject a student to disciplinary measures by the institution whether or not such conduct is simultaneously volatile of state, local, or national laws.”

Shepherd said her officers avoid pressing charges “if the planets are aligned.”

In essence, officers have full discretion, but they consider criminal records, previous drug convictions and the amount of substance in possession. Based on 15 years of experience as police chief, Shepherd says she doesn’t see anything anomalous about five offenses in one month.

Confiscated drugs and paraphernalia are logged into an evidence book by campus police and locked up until further notice. If the object or substance is evidence in a court case, officers wait until final disposition before disposing of it-usually by fire.