Criminal Practitioners Be Aware

Waukegan Criminal Lawyers Be Aware

Criminal Practitioners Be Aware of the Effect of a Drug Offense Conviction on College Financial Aid
– Dave Winer

On July 1, 2000, the Federal government announced that the amendment of section 484(r) of the Higher Education Act became law and has serious consequences for college students who are convicted of a drug offense and receive financial college aid under Title IV. The amendment to the Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton, represented an important development in the public attitude toward student drug use and the receipt of federal financial aid. The potential severe consequences on the client’s college aid must be recognized by any legal practitioner who represents a student charged with a drug offense. The Amendment states as follows:

(1) “A student who has been convicted of any offense under federal or state (emphasis added) law involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance shall not be eligible to receive any grant, loan or work assistance under this title during the period beginning on the date of such conviction and ending after the interval specified in the following table:

For Possession of a controlled substance ineligibility period is:
     First conviction – 1 year
     Second conviction- 2 years
     Third conviction- indefinite
 
For Sale of a controlled substance ineligibility period is:
     First conviction- 2 years
     Second conviction- Indefinite

However, a student can have the eligibility period reduced if he obtains drug rehabilitation which comports with certain requirements as set forth in the second paragraph of the Act. This section states:

(2) Rehabilitation: A student whose eligibility has been suspended under paragraph (1) may resume eligibility before the end of the ineligibility period determined under such paragraph if

(A) The Student satisfactorily completes a drug rehabilitation program that:
 
(i) complies with such criteria as the Secretary shall prescribe in regulations for purposes of this paragraph and

(ii) includes 2 unannounced drug tests, or
 
(B) The conviction is reversed, set aside or otherwise rendered null and void”

According to the Coalition for Reform of Higher Education Act, over 80,000 financial aid applicants have been penalized under this amendment. Currently, Representative Barney Frank (D-Ma) has introduced H. R. 786 to overturn the provision under the argument that drug convictions are not a germane criterion for the educational assistance process, which is intended to determine financial need and provide assistance on that basis alone, and that prohibiting financial aid is the wrong vehicle for addressing the social goal of reducing drug abuse. However, it is unlikely in this climate that H. R. 786 will be successful.

Many questions arise for criminal law practitioners when a college student is charged with a drug offense.  Does the Federal Act recognize Illinois law that supervision or 710 & 1410 probation is not a conviction? Does an Ordinance Violation constitute a “Federal or State” law? Is cannabis a controlled substance under the Act? Does drug paraphernalia fall under this Act? What type of treatment is satisfactory to resume eligibility? The author is unaware of the answers or of any case law dealing with those issues. Consequently, when a student client on a drug offense appears for an interview, it is advisable to inquire if they receive college financial assistance and then determine what effect a plea or verdict of guilty would have upon their assistance.

See: Amendment of section 484(r) at http://www.edc.org/.

Reform of Higher Education Act is at http://www.raiseyourvoice.com/.