In Oxford and other college towns, many students deal with the consequences of DUI arrests. Students are affected by the arrest itself and its legal aftermath, and they are commonly subject to ongoing scrutiny by others.
While some believe that getting a DUI is a reflection of one’s character, others say that it is unfair to judge someone based on one mistake or lapse in judgment.
Dwight Ball, 72, is an experienced lawyer who has dealt with many DUI cases throughout northern Mississippi for over 40 years as one of Oxford’s DUI attorneys.
Ball said the key to avoiding a DUI is acknowledging the facts from the start. “I haven’t told my clients anything they didn’t already know about DUIs,” said Ball. “It’s common sense in terms of what to avoid.”
Ball said alcohol directly impairs one’s ability to reason.
“People need to understand that human beings make mistakes in judgment all of the time,” said Ball. “These people are not your everyday criminals. What makes me angry sometimes are the derogatory statements made about people who got DUIs. It’s not a crime of moral turpitude.
“I’m not trying to minimize the wrongness of a DUI, but I’m trying to put into perspective (about) how to look at someone who got one.”
Ball said he always makes certain his DUI clients face the reality of the situation, and he talks with them about how to move on from it.
“As I said, I don’t want to lessen the severity of what they did, but at the same time, I want them to learn from what they did,” said Ball. “Were they in the wrong for doing it? Absolutely. Should they have done it? Absolutely not. It’s just simply something I emphasize with my clients so they learn from it, and to protect themselves from it in the future.”
Ball understands that students are aware that they have a choice in the matter, but he also knows how easily external factors can overwhelm rational decision making.
“People know that there are alternatives to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol,” said Ball. “They know what’s wrong beforehand, but factors interfere day to day with human life.
“People don’t go to a party with the intention to get intoxicated and operate a motor vehicle; they go to have fun and enjoy themselves. Sometimes, their judgement is not as good as it should be, which can lead to further problems.”
Katie Harrison is a staff counselor at the University of Mississippi and has been a licensed counselor for nine years. Harrison specializes in helping people deal with the trials and pressures of any incident, such as the gravity or impact of a DUI.
“My role is not about what the action was, but mainly how they get through it,” said Harrison. “If I’m talking to someone who had recently received a DUI, I would help them in the moment of crisis, and afterwards, they would go to a substance abuse center or specialized counseling in alcoholic related incidents if needed.”
Harrison said her job isn’t necessarily to correct her clients, but like Ball, she is there to counsel them at the height and through the aftermath of the incident.
“I think that being a supporter for these people is the best way to help them,” said Harrison. “While I can’t guarantee people that everything will be okay, since that’s out of my control, standing by their side with them after an event with the magnitude of a DUI will help them hold their heads up in the darkest moments.”
Another aspect of Harrison’s job is to help students learn to be more thoughtful from the start, and she advocates for them to be realistic about the likely probabilities ahead.
“Since part of my job is to help people make better decisions, I recommend to my patients who had alcohol-related arrests to have a plan for future nights in which they go out,” said Harrison. “That plan may either include having a designated driver, or calling a cab or an Uber.”
Mark Bagdoian, 22, is a senior UM criminal justice major. Looking out for the safety of others is nothing new to Bagdoian, as he has worked as a security guard at major music festivals, including Bonaroo, and he has also served as the risk manager for his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi.
Bagdoian said DUIs are prevalent in college towns.
“College students are more likely to make a decision to drive under the influence because they feel at times they are invincible,” said Bagdoian. “DUIs may be seen as more of an issue in a college town since they are sometimes in smaller areas with many people. Many students and teenagers will think because they know someone who got away with it, they will have the same luck.”
When it comes to preventing others from driving drunk, Bagdoian isn’t hesitant to do whatever it takes to dissuade people from doing so.
“I’ve been the voice of reason for people many times, and (I’ve been) their worst enemy at times as well,” said Bagdoian. “If someone hated me for the rest of my life for not letting them drive drunk, I’d rather have that than letting them drive and potentially taking someone else’s life, or even their own.
“You need to be the bully at times. I don’t care if someone will be mad at me the next morning if I know that they are still going to be alive.”
Bagdoian has said the same thing to his family and friends every time they plan on going out.
“It should be common sense that a cab is cheaper than a DUI,” said Bagdoian. “Not only would you pay for a DUI, but you could be paying for someone else’s funeral, or your family could be paying for your funeral. A cab or an Uber will always guarantee that you will be home in the morning, and your life will continue.”
Bagdoian said he also believes that DUIs are lapses in judgment.
“I know people who have gotten DUIs,” he said, “and I know that they didn’t have the intention to break the law or hurt anyone. As an understanding person, I know people make mistakes, and I know people will often learn from them.”
Bagdoian is a proponent of the reintroduction of Uber into Oxford, as it has provided another safe alternative, but he does acknowledge that there are still some people who will attempt to drive after drinking regardless.
“The addition of Uber has been helpful, as it is an easy way for students to find a ride and for them to know that they will make it home safe,” said Bagdoian. “Others can be too stubborn when intoxicated and will take the risk by attempting to drive, unknowingly putting their own, and other lives in danger.”