Know Your Rights: Top Five Laws College Students Should Understand

December 03, 2015

Going to college is an amazing experience. Everyone tells you that before you go, but it’s hard to really understand why it’s so important until you live through it yourself. Living on my own as an adult has been a new and confusing experience. I liked the increased independence to some extent, but was unaware of how scary this new “real world” could be. Classes and experiences alike helped me learn how to navigate the difficulties of this new world. For example, I didn’t know anything about our confusing and expansive legal system before taking Commercial Law I with Professor Sherri Moore. This class taught me the worth and importance of understanding the legal system through real world applications and interesting, informative lectures. Here are some of the most important laws and rights I learned about that all college students should know.  

1. Landowners who overstay their welcome are not only annoying, but also illegal.
According to the laws of non-freehold estates, which are agreements in which you share ownership of real property with a landlord, there are certain rights assigned to the tenant and the landlord, along with certain duties. The tenant has ownership rights, which give us the exclusive right to use and possess the land as well as non-possessory leasehold provisions that touch and concern the land for a definite or ascertainable period of time along with a covenant of quiet enjoyment. What does that mean in English? “Non-possessory leasehold provisions” refer to the timely maintenance of your apartment and the overall upkeep of your living conditions. “A covenant of quiet enjoyment” means that this apartment belongs to you now, so you can kick out your landlord anytime you want. You have the right to be left alone in your apartment.

2. Your landlord has a duty to fix the leaking sink.
And any other maintenance repairs in a timely fashion. There are certain duties that come with a leasehold agreement. For the tenant, these duties include paying rent, maintaining the premises, and not violating the lease. For the landlord, one of these duties is maintenance. They have a responsibility to make any necessary repairs in a timely fashion. The landlord also has to abide by the implied warranty of habitability. This means the property must be safe, sanitary, and weather proof. You have the right be to be able to live comfortably in your apartment.

3. You have rights outside of the Constitution – the right to privacy, the right to choose, the right to marry whomever one chooses. These rights were not explicitly given by our founding fathers; they have been created by judicial review.
The right to privacy is not anywhere in the Constitution, but it has been proven through common law, or law that has been created by judges. The combination of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 9th amendments created the right to privacy. The question of whether privacy was a right goes back to Olmstead v United States, where Olmstead argued that his fourth and fifth amendment rights were violated when the use of wiretapped private conversations obtained without judicial approval were used as evidence against him. He lost, but Brandeis wrote a dissenting opinion citing a right to privacy. This right to privacy was enacted in Griswold v Connecticut in 1965, when it was found unconstitutional for Connecticut to ban birth control at a criminal level. In Roe v Wade, the right to privacy was enacted in the case of abortion. Although this right is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, it has been used to take major action in high profile cases. You have the right to privacy thanks to case law.

4. There are different ways to use the law to obtain justice. Prosecuting using criminal law and pressing charges with civil law do not require the same proof and do not yield the same consequences. In criminal law, the style of the case is the government versus the defendant. The government, or the prosecuting attorney specifically, has control and the plaintiff becomes simply a witness. The victim must prove that the evidence shows the defendant as guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which equates to being 95-98% sure someone is guilty before prosecuting. In a civil victim case, the case is between two individuals. The victim has control over the case, and the standard of proof is “more probable than not” or “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which essentially requires being 51% sure that someone is guilty. For example, the tort of battery (which is a civil case) and the crime of battery (a criminal case) differ in a few important ways. Facet I, or what the victim must prove to have a case of battery, remains the same. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant touched the plaintiff with the intent to touch them in a manner that was harmful or offensive to a reasonable person. It is important to note that in battery, you do not have to prove injury. Facet II, or the case of the defense, differs between civil and criminal law. For each case, the defendant has the option to plead guilty. For both criminal and civil cases, the defendant can also argue that there was consent, that the defendant was acting in self-defense, that the defendant was a police officer using the privilege of arrest, or that the case was outside the statute of limitations of 2 years and could therefore no longer be brought to court. For civil cases, the defendant can also argue res judicata, which means that the case has already been brought to court and someone cannot be charged with the same crime twice. For criminal cases, insanity is also considered a viable defense. Facet III, or the punishments, is where civil and criminal law differ completely. In criminal law, the defendant is facing incarceration or fines. In civil law, the defendant is facing damages, in the form of compensatory or punitive, or equitable remedies. Compensatory and punitive damages are money payments, while equitable remedies are actions, such as a restraining order. You have the right to decide which type of court works better for your case, and use the legal system to your advantage.

5. Cops need a reason to ask to see your ID.
Remember the big ABC raid at Trinity last year? Next time someone asks you to see your ID while you’re inside the bar, you do not have to show it to him or her unless he or she has a reason to ask for it. Ask if you’re being detained. Ask why they want to see it. If you show them a fake ID, you get in trouble. If they do not know you have one, you are in the clear. You have the right to stand up for yourself.   You have the right to understand the legal system, so pay attention next time someone is explaining what lawyers are saying. The rhetoric can be annoying and difficult to understand, but the concepts are important in making the most of your rights as a college student in the United States.

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