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Legal Services FAQ

What can/should I do if I am caught or arrested for underage drinking?

In general, there are two different avenues under which a student or student group can be prosecuted for underage drinking: through the University and by the City of Evanston.

Alcohol misconduct according to the University Student Code of Conduct is defined as following:

  • Use or possession of alcohol by individuals under the age of 21 (or the age of majority in the jurisdiction);
  • Manufacturing alcoholic beverages on University property, premises, or facilities (except as specifically authorized by the University) or by individuals under the age of 21;
  • Providing or distributing alcohol to individuals under the age of 21;
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or while intoxicated
  • Possession of kegs or other large storage devices, quantity-dispensing containers, or common sources of alcohol in residence halls or fraternity/sorority houses (except as specifically authorized  by the University);
  • For students under the age of 21, being in the presence of alcohol in residence halls or fraternity/sorority houses;
  • Use or possession of alcohol, regardless of age, in residence halls or fraternity/sorority houses during new student orientation;
  • Use or possession of alcohol, regardless of age, in any “dry” or alcohol-free living units free living units, including fraternity/sorority houses or healthy living units;
  • Use or possession of alcohol, regardless of age, in any common area of a residence hall (except as specifically authorized by the University);
  • Possession of open containers of alcohol on University property, in University facilities, and in public buildings, parks, beaches, highways, streets, alleys, sidewalks, parkways, and public parking lots (except as specifically authorized by the University or other legal authority); and
  • Other violations of the University’s alcohol policies or state and local laws pertaining to alcoholic beverages, including those governing the transportation, possession, and consumption of alcohol

According to the Code of Conduct, there are a variety of factors involved in determining the severity and number of sanctions one might face, which include nature and severity of the incident, disciplinary history of the student, level of cooperation, accountability and responsibility taken by the student.

Disciplinary action from the University following the incident is typically handled by the Office of Conduct and Conflict Resolution. Possible sanctions include exclusion from Northwestern University, immediate or deferred suspension, disciplinary and social probation, formal warning, and monetary fine. In case of documentation of on-campus residents, potential outcomes include removal from University housing, housing relocation, and housing probation. Students may also be required to complete an educational program or community service based on the nature of the incident. Severity of sanctions are based on the factors listed previously. More details on these sanctions can be found in the Code of Conduct.

For more information about NU’s policies regarding alcohol and drugs visit Alcohol & Other Drug Resources. This website is a hub of information for students about NU policies, programs and services concerning alcohol and other drugs. To examine use and avoid dangerous situations, Health Promotion & Wellness offers a confidential and judgment-free service called BASICS.

The city of Evanston can also be involved in the disciplinary process, especially if the incident takes place off-campus (in an off-campus residence, liquor store, restaurant, etc.).  Under the Evanston Code of Ordinances it is unlawful for any person under the age of 21 to misrepresent his or her age to obtain alcohol anywhere in the city where alcohol is sold.  This is punishable by a fine of $500 to $1000.

A person found in violation of these ordinances may also be required to attend an administrative hearing at City Hall in front of a judge. Citation for underage drinking is also punishable by a fine of $500 to $1000.  In case of an off-campus incident, the police also notify the University Office of Conduct and Conflict Resolution for further disciplinary action. Finally, if required by the citation a student may be required to appear in court; this is on a case-by-case basis and is specific to the infraction.

There are also Illinois state ordinances that have their own potential consequences.

What can/should I do if I am caught with illegal substances?

The use, possession, and sale or intent to sell of illegal substances is processed at three levels: the University, the City of Evanston, and at the state/federal level according to the Illinois Compiled Statutesand federal law.

Drug misconduct, which includes marijuana, narcotics, cocaine, heroin, and prescription medication, according to the University Student Code of Conduct, is defined as following:

  • Use, misuse, or possession of illegal drugs or controlled substances (except as expressly permitted by law); b. Manufacturing or distribution of illegal drugs or controlled substances;
  • Use, possession, manufacturing, or \distribution of drug paraphernalia;
  • Driving under the influence of any illegal drug or controlled substance;
  • Being in the presence of the use or misuse of illegal drugs or controlled substances in residence halls or fraternity/sorority houses; and
  • Other violations of the University’s drug policies or federal, state, and local laws pertaining to illegal drugs and controlled substances

According to the Code of Conduct, there are a variety of factors involved in determining the severity and number of sanctions one might face, which include nature and severity of the incident, disciplinary history of the student, level of cooperation, accountability and responsibility taken by the student.

Disciplinary action from the University following the incident is typically handled by the Office of Conduct and Conflict Resolution. Possible sanctions include exclusion from Northwestern University, immediate or deferred suspension, disciplinary and social probation, formal warning, and monetary fine. In case of documentation of on-campus residents, potential outcomes include removal from University housing, housing relocation, and housing probation. Students may also be required to complete an educational program or community service based on the nature of the incident. Severity of sanctions are based on the factors listed previously. More details on these sanctions can be found in the Code of Conduct.

Evanston Ordinances on Marijuana Possession

Under a recent Evanston City Council ordinance, possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana has been decriminalized, so that it results in a fine ranging from $50 to $500 rather than jail time.  Anyone caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana will be issued a compliance ticket, assuming there are no other charges stemming from the citation (resisting police, disorderly conduct, etc.).

Possession of more than 10 grams can a misdemeanor or felony depending on amount caught with and generally follows state/federal ordinances, which can be found in the next section.

State Ordinances on Marijuana Possession

Under the Illinois Compiled Statutes, and particularly the Cannabis Control Act, possession of varying levels of marijuana are classified under different class misdemeanors and felonies, with varying punishments.

Possession with intent to distribute is also listed under the Cannabis Control Act and has its own set of slightly harsher penalties.

If you are accused of a misdemeanor or felony, you will need to appear in court. Varying classes of misdemeanors and felonies may also require jail time, depending on severity of the misdemeanor/felony. This will also depend on nature of the crime and court sentencing.

Information not listed regarding these topics can be found on the Compiled Statues Cannabis Control Act website.

State Ordinances on Possession of Drugs Other than Marijuana

Possession of narcotics and other hard drugs are regulated solely at the state and federal level as listed in the Illinois Compiled Statutes. Depending on severity of the incident and amount possessed, the accused can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, which has their own corresponding punishments, which are listed in the law.

Ordinances on Drug Paraphernalia Possession

Possession of drug paraphernalia, which includes equipment, products and materials of any kind which are used, or intended for use, in in planting, propagating, cultivating, growing, harvesting, manufacturing, compounding, converting, producing, processing, preparing, testing, analyzing, packaging, repackaging, storing, containing, concealing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling or otherwise introducing into the human body cannabis or a controlled substance.  Citation of drug paraphernalia with intent to deliver or use is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine ranging from $100 to $500, or by incarceration in a penal institution for up to six months, or both.  A misdemeanor cash bond of $120 to $150 in value may be required to leave prison. Further prosecution can occur by the state of Illinois depending on the case (see the relevant laws).

What can/should I do if I think my tenant rights have been violated?

As a tenant, you have clearly defined rights and responsibilities. These include a right to privacy, interest on your deposit, and the right to request your landlord to speedily fix maintenance issues.

The Interfaith Housing Center is a regional nonprofit that provides information, support, and mediation services to ensuring housing justice. It’s a great resource to figure out what your options are. It also hosts the Landlord Tenant Project, where you can find a complete list of tenant rights and responsibilities as well as a step-by-step guide for requesting repairs.

The University also provides a summary of Evanston ordinances that pertain to Northwestern students.

If you’ve negotiated with your landlord and there’s still no resolution to your maintenance/rent/security deposit issue, there are several free and low-cost services that can help you make your case.

And if it comes to eviction, visit the Landlord Tenant Project for a list of valid reasons for evictions and what kind of notices landlords must provide.

To what extent can I be punished for illegally downloading music on Northwestern’s network? What are NUIT's policies regarding copyright violations?

In short, there is no set punishment for breaking copyright laws on campus. There are several factors that go into penalizing an infraction. Note that you could also be targeted for legal action by the holders of the copyright(s), as well as industry associations that represent them.

The following are general copyright rules at Northwestern.

Computer, System, or Network Use:

  1. Must abide by all terms of the software license agreement.
  2. Must be aware that ALL computer software is protected by copyright unless it is explicitly labeled as PUBLIC DOMAIN.
  3. Must not copy software for any purpose outside those allowed in that particular software's license agreement.
  4. Must not make software available for others to use or copy in violation of that software's license agreement.
  5. Must not accept unlicensed software from any third party.
  6. Must not install, nor direct others to install, illegal copies of computer software or unlicensed software onto any University-owned or operated computer system. It is recommended that individual business units conduct and maintain periodic reviews of its computer systems for software installations to help ensure compliance with licensing agreements, copyright regulations, and University policy.

“Violations of this policy will be referred to the appropriate University disciplinary channels and may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment and/or dismissal from the University, in addition to remedies sought by the copyright holder.”

Source: NUIT, Information Technology Policy: Use and Copying of Computer Software

How should I respond to sexual violence? How can I help a friend who has experienced sexual violence?

Northwestern’s Center for Awareness, Response and Education “serves students who have experienced sexual violence by providing information about resources and options.”

CARE services are CONFIDENTIAL. The following services are also confidential and available 24/7:

CARE outlines the several options and resources available to students in the aftermath of sexual assault to ensure their health and safety. Other services available are:

  • Counseling
  • Health care
  • Changing class schedules
  • Changing housing arrangements
  • Reporting to police and/or filing criminal charges
  • Filing a complaint through the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution
    • Sexual violence cases can also be referred to SAHAS, the University’s Sexual Assault Hearing & Appeals System.

There are also several sexual health resources in the University and in the community.

What are my intellectual property rights/ How do I go about getting a patent?

A patent is governmental recognition of an invention (product or process) and legal protection of the associated intellectual property. Before pursuing a patent, proper research should be conducted to insure that the idea is novel. The first step in getting a patent is getting a provisional patent for $100 and allows the patent to be “pending.” The provisional patent must be filed within one year after public disclosure and allows one year before real patent application is completed.

Intellectual property is an idea, invention, trade secret, process, program, data, formula, patent, or right, that has value and results from activity of the mind. Like any property, it can be bought, sold, or donated. Intellectual property created by individuals in the course of performing their jobs is typically the property of the employer, while intellectual property created as a part of a “work for hire” contract is typically the property of the person who paid for the work. The IP guidelines for NU are as follows:

  • In the case of inventions made by undergraduates at the University to fulfill class assignments, the University has never and does not intend to ever assert their rights provided that the students are not working in cooperation with a Northwestern research lab.
  • Inventions voluntarily assigned to the University by students shall be owned by the University and are subject to the remaining provisions of the Patent and Invention Policy.

Source: Professor Bruce Ankenman and Professor Dan Brown, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science

Additional Resources:

How can I go about starting a business?

The first step in forming a business is determining what type it will be. Factors that determine what type include for profit/non-for-profit, liability requirements, and ownership. Once a business type has been chosen, the appropriate paperwork must be filed with local, state, and federal government organizations. The following are some helpful resources for getting started: