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Riots/Couch Burning in East Lansing - - Here We Go Again!

Our office has successfully represented MSU students, and those visiting MSU's campus, who have participated in and/or attended the revelry surrounding what was traditionally known at MSU as "CedarFest", and most frequently in connection with the MSU Basketball team's involvement in the NCAA tournaments in Spring. Last weekend, MSU's win at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis led many new revelers, who presumably were not aware of the City and the University's previous responses to such activity, to take to the streets and shout gleefully, and unfortunately, participate in the burning of furniture and, at least in one instance, the overturning of an automobile.

Unlike in many cases where young criminal offenders can take advantage of the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, or in relation to drugs, MCLA 333.7411, laws which allow persons who plead guilty to an offense to potentially avoid a criminal record, assuming a judge in the exercise of their discretion is agreeable, these remedies have not been available for "riot" related charges. The City of East Lansing and the University have demonstrated in the past that they will work together to identify, arrest and punish anyone who did anything more than merely be present at the scene of what might be viewed as a "riot". In the past, and as is expected here, it is likely that the City of East Lansing will charge offenders with rioting, incitement to riot, disorderly conduct involving burning of property, malicious destruction of property, and numerous related offenses. An initial slew of arrests should not cause those who were present to breath freely, assuming they were not arrested. Numerous cameras placed about Cedar Village, and police officers on the ground and on top of buildings with active cameras, will carefully view and dissect all the film, including pictures on the Internet, and ask persons to identify any potential suspect. Those present with a beer in their hand and hoisting the beer or cheering on anyone who may have actually engaged in the burning of couches, tree limbs, etc., will likely be identified and charged with incitement to riot, among other charges.

Students and visitors must be careful to select an experienced attorney when charged. The attorney will have to deal not only with the potential criminal implications, which will initially include a bond that will restrict the person from living on campus or in the Lansing area; require regular breath testing, a large upfront cash amount connected to the bond, but will be required to defend against aggressive prosecution seeking one or more criminal convictions, jail time, pro rata restitution divided among all charged offenders for the cost of the police enforcement, clean up and damage to property, as well as potential civil sanctions, including suspension or expulsion from Michigan State University. We have successfully represented defendants in similar situations at trial leading to acquittal, in an effort to keep our clients' records clean. Charges in these cases are historically never reduced to civil infractions by way of a plea bargain. Furthermore, although the court is required to use its discretion on an individual basis, viewing both the offender's past as well as the offender's particular involvement in a criminal event, when making a decision about whether or not to grant 7411 Status or Youthful Trainee Status (and thus allowing defendant to avoid a conviction), the East Lansing Judges, in the past, have basically treated everybody identically, refusing to grant Youthful Trainee Status or 7411 Status, and requiring jail time and restitution. Thus plea bargaining, or simply pleading guilty as charged, generally will not be an option if an accused wishes to avoid one or more convictions. Accused persons wishing to keep their record clean will likely want to exercise their right to a trial by jury.

Michigan State University has followed suit with suspensions and/or expulsions of students depending on the level of their involvement. Students and guests charged with criminal offenses must have attorneys that are willing and able to carefully review the cases for all possible defenses and be prepared to challenge the introduction of identification evidence, as well as the constitutionality of the various ordinances utilized by the City Attorney's Office and the East Lansing Police Department for the criminal charges that will be before the Court. If an accused elects to plead guilty, rather than face trial, their attorney must be tactfully aggressive when demanding that the Court utilize its discretion, as required, to individualize sentences for each defendant, rather than fall into the abrogation of the separation of powers by giving up the independence of the judiciary and essentially doing exactly what the City Attorney/City Counsel desires.

Those being criminally charged should find an experienced attorney as early as the Arraignment, given the significant bond and conditions associated with the bond that could severely limit a student's ability to finish finals, cause them to lose the benefit of tuition paid or cause them to be removed from campus in the coming semester.

If you are a student or visitor to East Lansing charged with rioting, incitement to riot or a related offense, call George Zulakis at Baird & Zulakis, P.C., toll free: (888) 604-2271 or (517) 349-5011.

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