This year, the [Metropolitan Police Department has issued at least six 61D noise citations]( – citations that count as arrests on permanent records – to students residing in townhouses. Last year, no noise citations were issued to students during the academic year. As MPD cracks down on rowdiness, students rightfully have cause for concern.

The university, through its Off Campus Student Life Web site, has sensibly advised off-campus residents not to host raucous parties. In most cases, violating the D.C. Noise Ordinance doesn’t lead to an actual arrest by a MPD officer, but the citation itself counts as an arrest and incurs a $50 fine. Officers can choose to issue warnings instead of arrests, but as we have seen so far this year, MPD is cracking down.

Although both D.C. law enforcement and the university acknowledge that the citations are not technically considered criminal offenses, their presence on a permanent record speaks to the contrary. When Georgetown students with 61D citations attempt to find jobs, especially in this tough economic climate, it may be difficult to explain the subtlety of the charge’s criminality to potential employers.

But the scarier truth lies between the lines. If a student chooses to pursue an appeal of the arrest placed on his or her record and loses, then the arrest becomes a more severe misdemeanor offense. This policy is unfair and unnecessarily raises the stakes for students who want to exercise all of their legal options.

The more serious offense dealt to the defendant after an unsuccessful appeal seems to be an attempt to deter defendants – many of whom are students – from pursuing the appeal process. It may encourage them to settle for a lesser punishment rather than pursue the appeal they are entitled to.

Georgetown’s Off Campus Student Life Web site warns of potentially increased punishments for unsuccessful appeals against the noise citations. This policy has brought about a system in which law enforcement can act unilaterally and with doubtful accountability; one in which utilizing the appeals process, a right for all, is greatly discouraged.

Students remain justifiably skeptical of what might constitute “excessive noise” as far as a party is concerned. It is possible for students to maintain a decent rapport with their Georgetown neighbors. When a student party becomes too boisterous, students can, and often do, respond to a neighbor’s complaint by quieting the party or shutting it down entirely. MPD’s draconian approach to loudness eliminates this flexibility.

Undoubtedly, off-campus residents have a responsibility to respect their neighbors and their surroundings when they socialize, but this law – and the blow dealt to those who lose an appeal of a 61D citation – is an overreaction.

A party can be quieted down, but a recorded arrest or misdemeanor charge is difficult to erase. MPD ought to reconsider its citation system and the legal ramifications of the appeals process. Until then, Georgetown students should make some noise: It’s time to urge university officials to coordinate with MPD authorities to tone down this alarming pattern of excessive citations.

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