Tips to stay out of hot legal water over spring break

It is that time of year again when college students seek warmer climates. There are at least four S-words to describe the purpose of spring break in no particular order of priority: Sun, Sand, Sex and Surf. We at Student Legal Service would like to add one more S-word … SAFETY. Most students have a great time wherever they go, but every year we learn about tragedies, emergencies and injuries suffered by spring breakers. A few commonsense precautions can prevent most problems.

  • Traveling to Mexico: Marijuana is not legal in Mexico, despite what you may have been told. When you purchase drugs in Mexico just as in the U.S. you may very well be buying from an undercover agent. Spring breakers are “easy pickens” for NARCs as well as real dealers who are not known for being nonviolent. Don’t leave your resort area and go off alone exploring greater Mexico on a sightseeing adventure. Alone equals danger.
  • Too much alcohol and too little sense: We know students drink on campus both legally and illegally. This has likely been true since colleges were first established. Most students while on campus do not binge drink, do not suffer from alcohol poisoning, but the milieu of Panama City Beach all too easily causes many to drink far more than they ever would at Kam’s. Most spring break destinations try to provide no-drinking activities such as contests, music, etc., but many tragedies of date rape still take place. Sadly, both the male and female may be too intoxicated to meaningfully know what happened, but the possible STD and the emotional trauma is still very real. Rape is a felony in every spring break town and WILL be vigorously prosecuted. Being drunk is rarely, if ever, a valid defense to rape. I can fly: Watch me glide off the 6th floor balcony … I sound like somebody’s dad preaching … well, I am, and certainly know that alcohol alone and in combination with other substances can lead to extreme overconfidence. Every year intoxicated students “jump”/“fly”/“fall” off of spring break balconies putting real meaning into the “break” of spring break. If you cannot glide like an eagle while sober, it is fairly likely that you will not soar much better while drunk. This goes for swimming … Daddy Tom says, “Don’t drink and drive and never drink and swim.” You do not want to drown or become shark bait.
  • They are just toy cops, they won’t arrest a student just having fun: The cops at spring break towns are not like department store security, they are real cops. The police on campus and in Urbana-Champaign are real and they arrest students on a regular basis, thus providing attorneys at Student Legal Service a decent level of job security. The cops in South Padre, Cancun and Hilton Head are just as real and will enforce the drug laws, and the laws against assault and battery and public intoxication. Every year I receive calls from students in various jails because of something they allegedly did while having too good of a time in the sun. Attorneys in Mexico are very expensive, just as private attorneys in the U.S., and may cause your parents to have to take out a second mortgage on the house to get you out of jail.
  • While you are in the sun, the crooks are at your apartment: The burglars and thieves of our fair community are keenly aware that spring break is coming up. They can hardly wait. Your apartment is their treasure trove. This community may seem safe, but any burglar will happily enter your apartment if you leave the door unlocked. Lock the windows and doors. Make sure you have renter’s insurance. Your landlord is NOT the insurer of your personal property. Take your most valuable items back home. Do NOT turn off the heat. It is not too late for deep freeze weather (after all that is why you are heading south). Pipes can and do freeze in March and your apartment can be a flooded mess when you return.

Don’t be scared, be prepared! Most students have a safe and wonderful time on spring break as long as they use common sense. Dad’s final piece of advice: “If you wouldn’t do it on campus, you shouldn’t do it on spring break … well, most of the time.”

Thomas E. Betz,

director, Student Legal Service