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Point of Law Concern for Students

The law firm of Tully Rinckey wants students and their parents to know about a provision in New York’s criminal justice system that allows for cases to be adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, particularly when they apply to college students, whose education could be jeopardized by an ACOD.

State law permits first-time offenders caught with a small amount of marijuana, usually deemed a violation, to accept a one-year adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, according to Tully Rinckey partner Thomas J. Carr.

In most cases, a standard ACOD carries a six-month adjournment, but in marijuana cases, the law requires it be one year, Carr said. If the defendant stays out of trouble for that period of time, the case is dismissed and the file is sealed.

An ACOD does not exist in the federal system, and the federal government doesn’t recognize New York’s ACOD, Carr said. Instead, the federal system attempts to find what’s comparable, so the adjudication is treated like probation on a drug charge, Carr said.

“For college students with federally backed student loans, this can mean disaster,” he said.

“College students are quick to want to ‘get rid’ of the problem. They don’t want their parents to know they’re in trouble, so they accept the ACOD.”

This type of disposition may lead to cancellation or suspension of any federally backed student loans, Carr said.

Many students rely on loans, most of which are federally backed, to fund their education, Carr said. He has been in court with students where the judge points out the student is automatically entitled to an ACOD on the marijuana violation. Carr said he explains to the court it’s risky because of the possible loss of a student loan.

Instead, he said, he would advise the student to plead to a different charge, “depending on the individual circumstances of the student,” something not involving marijuana or drugs. It’s the drug connection that the feds look at, he said.

The ACOD may not cause the student an immediate problem. But if the student applies for a loan for the next academic year, the lending institution approving the loans, which could be a bank, may run a check to update its records and learn about the case, “and they could be denied,” Carr said.

Also, accepting an ACOD can have negative consequences for a person interested in joining the military. The military treats an ACOD as an “open case,” which theoretically it is until it’s dismissed, and the armed services will not accept a service member with an open case, Carr said.


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