UI legal services remind students: Pay drinking fines

ME Online

ME Online

By Whitney Blair Wyckoff

Before slathering on sunscreen and making a beeline for warmer climates this spring break, some students need to make sure to take care of one final piece of business, said Thomas Betz, director of the University of Illinois Student Legal Services. Students who received drinking tickets on March 2 during Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day need to pay for them by March 23, which occurs during spring break.

Students who don’t pay the $290 fine on time face up to $750 in fines, $50-60 in court costs and risk being arrested or losing their driver’s license.

“Every single year, I’ve had eight to 10 – sometimes more – students who have gone away on spring break and have totally forgotten about the ticket,” Betz said. “They didn’t show up when they were supposed to show up in court, so the city has then filed the charge.”

Betz encouraged students with tickets to visit the student legal services office, which will be open during spring break, before paying a ticket.

“But I think they should talk to us and see if they have any defense,” he said.

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Often, Betz encounters students, particularly underclassmen, who are misinformed about how the ticketing process works. Some think it is okay to not pay the ticket and take their chances at trial because they think that the police officer won’t show up, and the case will be dismissed, he said.

But that assumption is untrue, he said.

“I’ve been at this 22 years, and I’ve never had a police officer not show,” Betz said. “In Cook County, sometimes they don’t show … They’ve got crimes far more serious than underage drinking there.”

Also he said some people think of drinking tickets as “expensive parking tickets” and throw them away.

“When people take that little pink ticket and rip it up and throw it in the garbage,” Betz said. “They’re making a huge mistake.”

He said on Unofficial, some students do not even realize they’ve been given a drinking ticket.

“In many instances, the students, at the time they were given the ticket were so intoxicated that they didn’t know literally what was going on,” Betz said. “You can walk on Unofficial St. Patrick’s day by the garbage cans and you can see some of the city offense tickets thrown in the trash. The litter is going to come back in the form of an arrest warrant.”

This year, 162 students received drinking tickets. Betz said that he anticipates that only a third of them will be University students. The rest come from other colleges, like Michigan or Southern Illinois, or local high school students.

Betz said that students cannot hide behind the University to avoid the consequences of these tickets. The University works with local police forces, so the police have access to student specific things like class schedules.

“There’s nothing more embarrassing than to have a police officer coming to serve the arrest warrant while you’re sitting in ‘Western Civ,'” Betz said.