Legal Issues

On this webpage we will address some of the common legal issues. Please note that the consequences for having legal problems is more severe for international students and scholars, as in addition to your student or scholar status at Rice, these matters can also seriously impact your immigration status in the U.S.

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drugs

Law

Alcohol
You must be 21 to consume alcoholic beverages in the United States (excluding Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Guam). Alcohol includes beer, wine, and hard liquors such as vodka, rum, whisky, etc. When purchasing alcohol it is possible that the vendor will ask for your photo ID proving your legal age. It is customary to provide a U.S. driver’s license, U.S. state ID, or passport.

There are strict limitations on operating a vehicle after the consumption of alcohol. More information about Driving While Intoxicated can be found on the Texas Department of Transportation’s website. Alcohol and driving are never a good idea. Don't drink and drive! Visa cancellations and revocations are probable results.

Tobacco
Federal laws require individuals to be at least 18 years old to purchase tobacco. However, state laws may vary. For example, in Texas the age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products are 21. Just like with alcohol, vendors might ask you for a photo ID for confirmation that you meet the minimum age requirement.

Drugs
When most people in the United States use the term "drugs", they are referring to illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, etc. Illegal drug use can also extend to the use of medication such as Xanax, Valium, Ritalin, etc. when not prescribed by a medical doctor.

In the United States, there are federal laws and state laws impacting the possession, use, and distribution of drugs. In some cases, the federal law can contradict state laws. For example, under federal law, marijuana is prohibited and considered a controlled substance. This means that individuals caught in possession could be put in prison and fined under federal law. However, some states (like California and Colorado) allow the possession and use of it. As an international student or scholar, you should not violate any laws (federal or state). So what may be considered legal in the state of Colorado (such as the use of marijuana), you should not use it, since federal laws strictly prohibit this. In sum, internationals in the U.S. must follow all laws – federal, state, and local, and if they are not the same, follow the most restrictive law.

American & Campus Culture

It is very common for U.S. college/university students to drink alcohol. This may be due:

  • to their new feeling of freedom (sometimes this is the first time they are leaving their families)
  • association with friends who are older
  • wanting to “fit in” with others or peer pressure
  • being at social events where alcohol is readily available
  • interest in trying something new
  • perception that they should drink because they are in college

In American culture, moderate drinking (while of legal age) is not frowned upon in most social settings. However, American culture doesn’t accept drinking in some situations such as drinking during class/work, public places (except restaurants, bars, and some stadiums), and vehicles. There are strict limitations on operating a vehicle after the consumption of alcohol. More information about Driving While Intoxicated can be found on the Texas Department of Transportation’s website.

Binge drinking (which many popular American movies portray) occurs when individuals consume excessive drinks in a short period with the ultimate goal of becoming drunk or blacking out. Binge drinking may also involve “drinking games.” The physical effects of binge drinking will vary from person to person and in some cases can be life threatening.

While you may not be binge drinking, you may be around others that do. In those circumstances, it is best and socially appropriate to obtain medical attention for individuals who are suffering from the effects of binge drinking. Students can call RUPD for assistance. In some situations, students can receive amnesty from Rice University for drinking violations.

Not only can the misuse of alcohol impact individuals physically; being impaired from drinking can also make one more vulnerable to crimes such as robbery and assault.

To read the Rice University Alcohol Policy, please visit https://policy.rice.edu/848.

Implications for Use/Misuse

The misuse of alcohol and drugs in the U.S. can have short and long term impacts. Some short term impacts include:

  • Missing classes, assignments, tests and project deadlines
  • Fines
  • Receiving citations
  • Being arrested
  • Jail time

Some long term impacts include:

  • Negative impacts on your academic success
  • Negative impacts on your health
  • Ability to enroll at Rice (failure to enroll will negatively impact F and J status)
  • Losing employment opportunities because of failed drug test or failed background checks
  • Visa revocation or non-issuance of visas in the future
  • Prison time

Attorneys are starting to see USCIS question adjustment of status applicants regarding marijuana use. If the applicant admits use of the drug, USCIS then takes a sworn statement. Once that happens, the applicant could be permanently ineligible for permanent residence, as "having committed a crime involving moral turpitude for which he/she has not been convicted," as an "abuser or addict," or "having committed a crime involving a controlled substance." For more information on this, please consult an attorney.

Traveling to the U.S.

Alcohol
We recommend not traveling with alcohol as you enter the U.S. since most types of alcohol are available for purchase. However, if you decide to enter the U.S. with alcohol, you should make sure that you are following federal and state laws (state is referring to the state of your Port of Entry). You should be prepared to pay a customs duty as it applies in some circumstances.

Tobacco Products
If you decide to bring tobacco to the U.S. you must make sure that you meet the minimum age required by state law to purchase tobacco at your Port of Entry. The age will vary from state to state, so it is important that you check. Also, there is a limitation on how many cigarettes (200) and cigars (100) you can bring to the U.S. For loose/pipe tobacco there are limitations and individuals should check with each Port of Entry to find out the limitations.

Prescription Medication
When traveling with medication, you should make sure that the medication is in its original container with the prescription printed on the container. We also recommend that you bring a letter from your doctor (in English if possible) with all prescriptions listed including the generic name(s) of the medication. Customs and Border Protection recommends that you only bring a 90 day supply of medication. Not all medications are allowed in the U.S. As such, you should check the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s website to confirm that your medication is on the list. Remember to pack your medication in your carry-on baggage!

Law Enforcement

Interacting with Law Enforcement Officers

Americans use the term police as a generic name for law enforcement officers. Police officers may work for different parts of the federal, state, and city government. Rice University has its own police department and police officers. You will see them on campus in police uniforms, and they are here to help the Rice community, while enforcing the law.

In many countries, police officers may be feared or thought of as untrustworthy. Police officers in the U.S. are generally approachable. They are seen as part of the local community that enforce laws which protect the community. Any efforts to bribe police officers are illegal and completely culturally inappropriate.

OISS recommends that when you interact with law enforcement to follow their instructions and be courteous. It is common in the U.S. to refer to police officers Sir/Madam or Officer. When speaking with them, it is best if you let them lead the conversation and answer their questions. You should keep in mind that you have the right to remain silent (so as not to self-incriminate) and there are limitations on what law enforcement can search without a warrant. This limitation on search doesn’t apply to DHS officials at the Port of Entry. The American Civil Liberties Union has material advising you on what to do with respect to law enforcement on their website.

Being Pulled Over in Traffic

You are being “pulled over” if you are in a car and a police car follows you with their light bar on (usually flashing red, blue, and white). You should be aware that officers on motorcycles, bicycles, and horses can also pull you over. In this situation, you should slow down, find a safe place to stop on the right side of the road, stop the car, put it in park, if possible turn on your vehicle interior light, roll down your windows, put your hands on the wheel, and remain inside the car. The police officer will likely park behind you and approach your car on foot with caution. He/she will visually assess the situation before speaking to you. It is important that you don’t make sudden movements to communicate to the officer that you aren’t a threat.

You may also wish to view this helpful YouTube video that talks about what to do if stopped by the police: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IS6euS8QSo&t=4s.

Citations

While in the U.S. it is possible that you will receive a citation or “ticket” from a police officer. Citations can be based on driving infractions such as speeding, parking illegally, turning without a signal, etc. or based on behavior such as public intoxication. If you are issued a citation you will be asked to sign the citation. Signing citation does not mean you agree with the charge, it simply means you are agreeing to appear in court to follow up with your citation. You will receive a copy of the citation with all the information you need.

Relationships

Healthy Relationships while at Rice University

We hope that you experience healthy relationships in your personal, professional, and educational lives while at Rice and beyond. If you do experience concerning behaviors (abuse, assault, harassment, or discrimination) from someone in your life (on or off campus), are concerned about your own behaviors within relationships, or are reported for some of these concerning behaviors, there are people on campus who can help. If you reach out to The SAFE Office, they will provide you with support and guidance, and empower you to make the best decisions for your unique situation.

It is important to know that there are prohibited behaviors at Rice University and these include: abuse, harassment, assault, violence, and discrimination towards others. These behaviors violate Rice standards, federal law, and possibly State of Texas criminal law and can result in university and legal/criminal consequences. To learn more about Rice’s student code of conduct and sexual misconduct policy, as well as definitions of these behaviors, please visit SJP.rice.edu.

To learn more about The SAFE Office services, please go to their website at SAFE@rice.edu. You can also access support for your emotional health through the Wellbeing and Counseling Center at https://wellbeing.rice.edu/.

Title IX is the federal law that mandates schools to provide safe spaces for student to obtain their education, and to offer services when interpersonal violence is reported. The link below will provide you with additional information about Title IX and issues unique to international students: https://www.knowyourix.org/college-resources/title-ix-immigration/.

If you would like to talk to someone about Title IX and your rights in a language other than English, please review the contacts on this link: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa-201404-title-ix.pdf.

Free Legal Resources

List of Resources

This information is subject to change. All information has been verified as of 12/6/2019, but please make sure that the service continues to be free if you choose to contact anyone from the list below.

List of Free Legal Services and Information
https://hlrs.org/wp-content/uploads/FREE-LEGAL-SERVICES-1.pdf

South Texas College of Law
General #: (713) 646-2990
Office Hours 8:00am to 5:00pm, Mon-Fri, and leave a message (will usually call back by the end of the next business day)

The Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program
111 Bagby, Suite FLB300
Houston, Texas 77002
Intake Phone: 713-228-0732
Main Phone: 713-228-0735
Email: info@hvlp.org
Application: https://www.makejusticehappen.org/node/26/application-forms

  • Applications are taken in in person. A licensed attorney will meet with applicants for 15-20 minutes. There is no charge for this service.

Houston Lawyer Referral Service
Phone: 713-237-9429

  • Criminal law, traffic tickets or desiring to get money from someone else

Houston Bar Association
Legal Line program: (713) 759-1133
Website: https://hba.org/index.cfm?pg=LegalLine

  • Only answers questions
  • Open first and third Wednesday of the month between 5pm and 9pm (English) and first Thursday of the month between 6pm and 8pm (Spanish)

University of Houston Legal Aid Clinic
Phone: (713)743-2094