An arrest for marijuana possession or other minor offenses could have potentially devastating effects on a college student. First and foremost, an arrest could lead to an expulsion from a college or university. Secondly, an arrest or conviction record could certainly be a severe impediment when embarking on a career. A pilot program created by the University of Miami and the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office gives college students a second chance. The program referred to as the University Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (U-Lead) is intended to give first time offenders an opportunity to overcome a mistake.
One of the Miami criminal lawyers at DMT recently enrolled a client into the program. Last May, a college student from UM was caught smoking marijuana in his Coral Gables dormitory. Larry McMillan, Esq. who represents the student, was quoted as saying, "It was a wake-up call for him and it shook him to the core. He could have blown it with the puff of a pipe. He is now doing community service hours. He realizes that the opportunities to come to this country and study of very limited." Without the U-LEAD program, the student would have been arrested and faced charges in county court. He would have faced expulsion from school and potential immigration consequences had he entered a plea to the charge. However, if he successfully completes the requirements set forth, no arrest will be made and he can complete his college education.
The pilot program created by the university currently has 80 students enrolled in the program. To successfully complete the program, students are required to complete community hours, pay fines and cooperate with university police. Miami defense attorneys, prosecutors and the police all agree that the program is a "valuable chance at redemption" for first time offenders accused with possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia.. Leon County and Tallahassee, Florida has a similar program which recently came online that allows for the issuance of a citation in lieu of an arrest for minor non-violent crimes. Some cities and other South Florida universities are considering similar programs.
Authorities are in favor of expanding the program to alleviate the stress placed on the county court. Last year, 51,400 misdemeanor arrests were made causing significant congestion to the system. To date the UM program has been successful. Only three or the 80 students enrolled have been bounced out of the program. To qualify for the program, a participant must have been caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana or drug paraphernalia. If a student qualifies, they are required to review a series of forms. Program representatives suggest that the students reveal the problem to their parents for the sole purpose of retaining a criminal law firm to guide the student and the parents through the system. If a student rejects the program or fails to complete the conditions set forth, an arrest and prosecution will be sought by UM and the state attorney's office.
Students are required to complete 25 community service hours, donate $200 to a victim relief fund, and pay a $200 administration fee used to fund the program. Students enrolled in the program are subject to random urine tests and must provide the source of the marijuana. Students are also required to take a drug awareness course and take a tour of the courthouse. The program is similar to the state's pre-trial diversion program with the only difference being that an arrest is never effectuated. The program is attempting to encompass other offense such as possession of a false identification and alcohol violations. All common offense committed on a college campus.
U of Miami Helps Students Facing Minor Pot Charges, Miami Herald.com, December 22, 2012.