Education Resources

Indiana Criminal Law

The top 10 things that students need to know about Indiana criminal law before attending college.

Most college students will go four years never having interacted with the legal system. However, if you do find yourself in that situation, it’s best not to be taken by surprise. Certain behaviors aren’t just risky to health. They may jeopardize you financial aid and future employment options.

This page contains information adapted from an IU Student Legal Services pamphlet about Indiana criminal law. Different states have different laws that may vary in significant ways. If you are attending college at an institution outside of Indiana, familiarize yourself with the local laws. Look on your school’s website or ask during orientation to see if your school provides similar information.

Know the laws.

Public Intoxication
In Indiana (and most other jurisdictions), it’s against the law to be intoxicated in public. In Indiana, you can be charged with the crime of Public Intoxication if a police officer determines that you meet the following criteria: (1) you’re in a public place; (2) intoxicated, and (3) one of the following applies to you: you endanger your life, you endanger someone else’s life, your “breach the peace,” or you harass, annoy, or alarm another person.

Police are on the lookout for groups of students walking late at night, especially near bars, dorms, and areas where parties frequently occur. The best way to avoid being charged with public intoxication is to take a cab or designate a driver.

Minor Possession, Consumption and Transport

It is illegal to consume, possess, or transport alcohol under the age of 21. All of these crimes are class C misdemeanors, which carry a maximum penalty of up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $500. If you consume or transport alcohol while driving, your driver’s license may be suspended.

Minor Possession: If you’re under 21, you could be charged with a crime for holding a can of beer. The police only have to prove that you knew what was in your hand contained alcohol. You don’t even need to have the intent to drink it.

Minor Consumption: If you’re under 21, consuming any amount of alcohol could get you charged with a crime. Keep in mind that plainclothes officers sometimes patrol areas where students frequent, including tailgates.

Transportation: If you’re under 21 and drive a car with alcohol in it, you could be cited for underage transportation of an alcoholic beverage. It doesn’t have to be your car, and the beverage doesn’t have to be open. If your friends go to the liquor store, the driver of the vehicle must be 21.

The Lifeline Law
The Indiana Lifeline Law protects minors from prosecution for certain offenses when they call on behalf of a person who needs medical attention. Please visit our page on the lifeline law for more information.
Common Nuisance
If you’re hanging out with friends while they’re using illegal drugs, even if you’re not using them, you can be charged with visiting a common nuisance, a Class B misdemeanor. It’s even more serious if people are using drugs in your house or apartment. Even if you personally aren’t using drugs, you can be charged with maintaining a common nuisance, a Level 6 felony.
Fake ID's
If you’re under 21 and state that you are older, or you use a fake ID in an attempt to buy alcohol, you could be charged with false statement of age, a Class C misdemeanor. Even if you aren’t trying to buy alcohol, you can be charged with possession of false identity for simply having a fake ID in your possession.

Know your rights.

Miranda Rights
If you are being arrested, nothing you say to the police will change their minds. In fact, you’re likely to make things worse by talking to the police. You have a constitutional right to remain silent, and your silence does not imply guilt. You also have the right to an attorney. The only thing you should say to police is that you want the assistance of an attorney.

Play it safe. Do not sign or say anything until you speak with an attorney. Stay calm, and whatever you do, don’t say or do anything that could be interpreted as resisting arrest. For example, if a police officer asks for your driver’s license, you should cooperate and give it to him. Failure to do so could result in additional, very serious charges being brought against you.

If you are charged with a crime and not sure how to proceed next, visit Student Legal Services. Although Student Legal Services can only advise on criminal matters, they can help explain what happens next and refer you to an attorney.

Searches and Consent
Generally, the police must have a warrant before they can conduct a search, unless you consent to the search. A notable exception occurs when there is evidence of illegal activity in plain view. This could mean, for example, drug paraphernalia that is visible from a window.

If you give consent to a search, either through words or actions that imply consent, a search that might otherwise be illegal will likely become legal. Consenting to a search can be very risky, and by giving consent you are giving up a valuable right. If you believe that you are being searched illegally, look for witnesses and tell the police clearly that you are not consenting to the search. Do not take any action that could be construed by police as aggressive.

Know the potential consequences.

Types of Charges and the Initial Hearing
Criminal offenses are classified into the following categories, listed in order of increasing seriousness: (1) infractions (e.g. possession of a fake ID and most traffic offenses); (2) misdemeanors (e.g. public intoxication, underage consumption, possession, or transport); and (3) felonies (e.g. some DUI’s, rape, murder).

If you’re charged with a misdemeanor or felony, you must appear for an initial hearing unless you’re offered an alternative. Even if you know you are guilty, you should enter an initial plea of “not guilty.” Your plea can always be changed later, and this gives you time to meet with a lawyer and work out a better deal with the prosecutor. Failure to appear will likely result in additional criminal charges being entered against you and potentially an arrest warrant.

Alternatives to Trial
If you are charged with certain minor offenses and do not have a significant prior criminal record, the prosecuting attorney has the discretion to offer a program called the Pretrial Diversion Program (PDP). However, if you are charged with resisting arrest or a driving-related offense, the prosecutor is not likely to offer the PDP. The PDP is never guaranteed. It is up to the prosecutor to decide whether to offer it.

If successfully completed, the PDP allows you to avoid having a criminal conviction on your record. You will have to pay fees, take a class, and commit now new offenses within one year. After a year, if you satisfy all the PDP requirements, the charges will be dismissed. If you do not successfully complete the PDP, your PDP privileges will be revoked. The charges will be “live” and your will have to start the process over again.

Similarly, if you are charged with an infraction, you may be eligible for the Infraction Diversion Program. If successfully completed, a traffic ticket is dismissed and no conviction or points for that ticket will appear on your driver’s record.


IU Consequences
If you are charged with a criminal offense that constitutes a violation of the IU code of conduct, you could also be subject to disciplinary action by the university. In some situations, the university may even contact your parents. If you receive documentation from IU regarding a disciplinary hearing, you should set up an appointment with IU’s Student Advocate’s Office (812-855-0761), who may assist you in preparing for your hearing.

Financial Aid Consequences
Certain drug crimes can impact your ability for financial aid. Make sure you review any information you have on financial aid and scholarships to ensure that you are aware of what impact a criminal conviction could have on that aid.

Immigration Consequences
If you are an international student, being charged with a criminal offense can have serious immigration consequences. If you are charged with certain criminal offenses, you could be deported or denied re-entry. You should speak with a criminal defense attorney and ensure you understand all potential consequences before you agree to a plea deal with a prosecutor. Contact Student Legal Services for a referral.

Employment Consequences
When you apply for jobs, internships, or grad school, you will often have to disclose your criminal record. Pay attention to the wording of the application and whether you need to disclose an arrest or conviction. If you’re still unsure how to answer, schedule an appointment with Student Legal Services.

The material in this website is for informational purposes only, and it is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice.