How a Drug Crime Conviction Can Affect College Students

A drug crime conviction – whether at the state or federal level – can substantially impact a person's life. This is also true for college students who face additional barriers or consequences following a controlled substance offense.

At Keegan, Tindal & Jaeger, our Iowa City attorneys recognize the lasting effects of a drug crime charge, which is why we vigorously fight for our clients. Contact us at (319) 499-5524 to learn how we can help you.

State and Federal Drug Crime Laws

Both the state and federal governments have statutes concerning unlawful conduct involving drugs. Iowa Code § 124.401, for instance, prohibits the manufacture, delivery, or possession of controlled substances. Likewise, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 844 make it unlawful for any person to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or have simple possession of controlled substances.

During the college and university years, students may have greater exposure or access to drugs, increasing the chances of being involved in or suspected of a controlled substance-related offense. As such, the likelihood exists that a college student would have to defend against drug crime charges to protect their educational and professional future.

The Effect of Criminal Penalties on a Student's Future

One of the first things college students should know is that a drug crime conviction can very likely lead to severe criminal penalties. For instance, at the state level, drug manufacturing can be charged as class "D," "C," or "B" felony. The penalties can be anywhere from a maximum of 5 years to a maximum of 50 years. Additionally, fines can range from $1,025 to up to $1 million. As a federal crime, manufacturing can be punished by up to 1 year of incarceration to up to 10 years – in severe cases, a life sentence can be imposed.

Even simple possession charges have steep penalties. In Iowa, the offense is a serious misdemeanor, punishable by a term of incarceration of no more than a year, with a minimum of 48 hours in jail. The fine can range from $430 to $2,560. A federal simple possession conviction can also result in a maximum of 1 year of imprisonment but with a fine of up to $1,000.

Whether charged with manufacture or simple possession – or any violation in between – the point is that a college student's personal and educational life can be put on hold following a conviction. Of course, a term of imprisonment for any length of time can mean missing classes, and therefore, important information. This can result in lower grades or even a need to drop the class altogether, hindering the students' progress towards graduation.

The fines can also put a halt to learning. Even if just a few hundred dollars, any financial penalty can substantially hurt a student's wallet. The amount paid for fines, court costs, and other fees is money that cannot be put towards books, classes, gas, or other items.

The Effect of a Drug Crime Conviction on Federal Student Aid Eligibility

For a while, a drug crime conviction rendered a student ineligible for federal financial aid. Eligibility could be reinstated after completing a drug rehabilitation program.

That's no longer the case under the FAFSA Simplification Act. Beginning with the 2021-2022 award year, the Department of Education began phasing out ineligibility for federal aid because of a drug crime conviction. While the question about drug crime convictions remained on the FAFSA application during this award year, the Department made it clear that answering "yes" would not impact eligibility. Eventually, the question will be removed entirely.

Similarly, those convicted of a drug crime or any other offense and incarcerated in a federal or state institution will no longer be disqualified from receiving Federal Pell Grants. However, the student must be enrolled in a prison education program and meet other eligibility requirements to qualify for this aid.

While lifting federal student aid restrictions is good news for students, it doesn't mean that a drug crime charge should not be taken seriously. As noted before, the criminal penalties alone can thwart academic progress.

The Effect of a Drug Crime Conviction on Professional Licenses

College students might find that their drug crime conviction keeps them from pursuing the career of their dreams. Upon graduating, they may apply for jobs requiring professional licensing, only to find out that a past mistake makes it challenging to get the certifications they need.

For professions in medical, interior design, and other fields, a drug possession, manufacture, or sales conviction can result in the denial, revocation, or suspension of a professional license. Mostly, such disciplinary actions happen when the offense was committed in circumstances related to the duties and responsibilities of the job.

In some cases, the applicant can submit proof that they have rehabilitated or ask the respective board for an eligibility determination to reconsider their disqualification. However, this is a challenging extra step that those without drug crime convictions can avoid.

Reach Out to an Iowa City Attorney

If you have been charged with a drug crime, a lot is at stake. That's why it's necessary to have a criminal defense lawyer fight aggressively for you. By challenging the allegations, you can seek a favorable outcome, such as dropped charges or a not guilty verdict, which could help avoid or minimize penalties.

Speak with a member of our team to learn about your legal options and how we can defend you.

Contact Keegan, Tindal & Jaeger at (319) 499-5524 today.