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Introduction to U.S. Law
The following slides will introduce students to the basics of the U.S.
Legal system. Understanding the basics of the legal systems will help
students to understand their rights while in the U.S., as well as their
responsibilities in being law abiding citizens.
• Identify your rights while living in the U.S.
• Identify your responsibilities as law abiding citizens
• Identify actions/behaviors that may lead to problems with the law in
Contracts such as apartment leasing contracts are legal binding
documents in the U.S. Once you sign a contract, you are confirming that
you agree to all the terms and conditions of that contract. Remember
when you sign up for an apartment to always read the contract carefully.
If you do not agree with the terms of the contract, do not sign it. If you
sign a contract, it is assumed that you read and understood it. Once you
sign a contract, you are bound to it by law. You cannot cancel the
contract unless the landlord or contract holder agrees.
Most consumer problems arise form purchase of things of value that cost some
significant amount of money such as a car. If you are buying something used
(second hand items), it may be sold “As Is”, meaning there are no guarantees. You
are accepting to buy the item in whatever condition it is at the time of purchase.
If the item breaks after buying, you will have no remedy under the law due to the
“As Is” clause.
If you have questions, about the item, ask BEFORE you buy. Do not accept verbal
guarantees. Make sure that you get those guarantees in writing. If possible, take
someone with you who is from the area who can help you ask the right questions
about the item. If purchasing a used care, test drive it. Take the car to a mechanic
to be inspected for defects or damage BEFORE you purchase it.
Consumer Problems (cont)
Once you have made the purchase, any defects or problems the item may present
will not be compensated by the seller. You are responsible for any costs you may
incur in rectifying the problem(s) the item pay present.
If you are purchasing a service, make sure the service provider is certified or
licensed. You may want to check for reviews on line assuming they are genuine
customer reviews. Try to get references from people who have used the service
before you begin a business deal with an individual/company. If you are renting,
talk to other tenants or the tenants you will be replacing about their experience.
Online purchases are very convenient and save time and sometimes money.
However, they have the potential for internet fraud since you are relying on trust
that once you pay your item will be sent to you.
When shopping online be sure that you know the seller and the terms of the sale.
Be sure to check for customer reviews. If you don’t do your homework well, you
may send your money and never get your product or money back.
Bad Behavior, Bad Results
WVU is considered as a dry campus. That means alcohol is not permitted on WVU
property such as in the residence halls, and other properties such as buildings,
parking lots, etc. Open alcohol containers such as beer bottles, cans or mixed
alcoholic drinks are also prohibited in public spaces. Individuals of legal drinking
age can however, have alcohol in their private premises which does not include
WVU owned properties and apartments.
The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21. It is illegal to buy alcohol for minors (under
21 years of age) or to obtain an illegal identification card (ID) so as to falsify your
Bad Behavior, Bad Results (cont)
Never carry open alcohol containers in your car. An open container is any
container with alcohol which has a broken seal. The assumption to a
policeman/woman would be that you are drinking and driving which is against the
The penalties for drinking and driving are severe and include fines, time in jail,
volunteer service, and temporary suspension of your driver’s license. In more
sever cases where you may injure or kill someone while driving under the
influence of alcohol or other substances such as drugs, you may be charged with
criminal negligence, homicide, or manslaughter. The penalty of these crime could
be many years to life in jail.
Bad Behavior, Bad Results (cont)
If the police officer suspects that you are driving under the influence of
alcohol, you may be asked to take a breathalyzer teat. The test determines how
much alcohol is in your system. A bodily alcohol content of 0.08 or more indicates
you have more alcohol than is permitted while driving, and you could be charged
with Driving Under the Influence (DUI).
Do not argue with the officer, although you may respectfully ask any questions
you may have. DO NOT attempt to offer the officer any kind of bribe to let you go.
IT IS AGAINST THE LAW!
Be sure to go over the terms of your lease to understand what your landlord
approves or does not approve. Some landlords ay prohibit parties on their
properties. If you are permitted to have parties, you are responsible for
controlling your guest’s behavior such as noise levels to avoid disturbing the other
tenants. It’s not unusual in the U.S. for neighbors who may feel disturbed by noise
from your apartment to call the police.
If you are serving alcoholic drinks be sure to look out for your guests. Do not let
them drive home drunk. If they spend the night at your house to sober up, check
on them frequently and look for signs of alcohol poisoning.
If alcohol poisoning is suspected, be sure to call 911 (Emergency Medical
Criminal acts are defined as:
1. Misdemeanors – These are crimes which as punishable by less than 1 year in
2. Felonies – These are crimes that are punishable by more than 1 year in jail.
Examples of felony acts include theft of an item values at more than $1,000, or
driving a car while intoxicated and causing death as a result of an accident.
Felonies and aggravated felonies are reported to the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS). As a result your immigration status may be adversely affected.
Some misdemeanors including domestic violence and some theft offenses are also
reported to DHS which may impact your immigration status.
Criminal Acts (cont)
Crimes of moral turpitude (an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment
or accepted standard of the community) are also reported to DHS. These are
crimes that are generally defined as crimes that shock the public conscience as
being inherently vile, depraved or contrary to the rules of morality. The person
committing the crime is perceived as “having evil intent”. These crimes may
include spousal or child abuse, kidnapping, rape, fraud, etc.
If you are ever in a situation where you are charged with a felony or crime of
moral turpitude, it is very important to seek the advice of an immigration
Child Safety Tips
It is against the law for parents to leave young children home alone unattended.
Always make sure that your young child is at daycare or has a sitter at hoe if they
are to stay at home in your absence. It is not uncommon that neighbors or other
tenants may call the police if they suspect that you are leaving your child home
When traveling with children, be sure that you have the correct child car seat in
your car, and that you child is correctly strapped into the seat. Children should
never be left unattended in the car, while you run errands. Always remove the
child from their car seat and take them with you. Passers-by will call the police if
they notice a child or pet locked inside a car unattended.
Car Seats Law
Children’s car seats are mandatory and very specific. Children who are less than 1
year and weighing less than 20 pounds have to travel in a rear facing car seat and
be placed in the rear back seat of the car.
Children who are more than 1 year old and weigh 20 pounds or more can be
carried in the rear back seat of a car with the child’s car seat facing forward.
Common Traffic Problems
Police will often park in certain sports along the road with speed guns to catch driving
irregularities such as speeding. The police may catch your traffic offense long before
you see the officer.
Police stops are common in the U.S. for various reasons including speeding, reckless driving,
expired license plates, defects with your car, etc. A police stop typically will involve a police
car with flashing lights following you. If you do not stop due to the flashing lights, they may
include a brief warning siren to get your attention. Slow down and stop as soon as you find
space by the right hand side of the road to avoid obstructing traffic. DO NOT get out of your
car. Roll down the window on the driver’s side of the car. Keep your hands where the police
can see them such as on your steering wheel.
Traffic Stops (cont.)
The officer will take some time to look up your vehicle registration then approach your
vehicle. Listen carefully to any questions you are asked and answer them politely and
truthfully. Provide any documents that you may be asked for such as your driver’s license
and proof of insurance.
If the officer suspects that you are driving under the influence of alcohol, you may be asked
to take a breathalyzer test. The test determines how much alcohol is in your system. A
bodily alcohol content of 0.08 or more indicates you have more alcohol than is permitted
while driving, and you may be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI).
Do not argue with the officer, although you may respectfully ask any questions you may
have. DO NOT attempt to offer the officer any kind of bribe to let you go. It is a crim and will
only get you into more trouble.
Common Traffic Problems (cont.)
DO NOT attempt to pass a stopped school bus with the stop signs out.
School buses are common features on U.S. roads. When a school bus stops to pick or drop
children, all traffic (going both directions) must stop at least 2 bus lengths away from the
stopped bus. The bus will normally display flashing red signs and stop signs for the traffic
going both directions. This is a precaution to ensure children get safely on or off the bus and
cross the road safely. DO NOT attempt to pass a stopped school bus with the stop signs out.
Anytime you see a STOP sign along the road, you much come to a complete stop, and check
to see if it’s safe to continue driving. Failure to do so can result in a hefty ticket or cause a
Common Traffic Problems (cont.)
Emergency vehicles such as police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, etc, have the right of way
when they have their lights flashing. You must quickly and safely find a spot to come to a
complete stop, so as to give way to the emergency vehicle.
If emergency vehicles are stopped by the roadside, you must slow down, and move to the
left lane if available, so as to give space to the emergency vehicles and personnel to do their
job. It is safe for you and for the emergency personnel.
Odds and Ends
Other issues you should be aware of…
Smoking is prohibited in most public spaces including most restaurants. Do not smoke
where no smoking signs are displayed. There will often be a designated smoking space
where smoking is prohibited.
Do NOT create a false alarm such as ringing a building fire alarm just as a joke. Not only is it
an inconvenience because people have to be evacuated, it is illegal to create a false alarm.
Be careful when visiting shopping malls. Be sure to pay for all of your items. Failure to do so
can cause you to be charged with shoplifting.
Littering is illegal and is punishable by to up $500 in fines. Trash cans are typically available
for trash disposal along side-walks and in most buildings. Take the time to find one.
Identity theft is not common in most countries, but it is a huge industry in the U.S. Identity theft is a rime
in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves
fraud or deception typically for financial gain.
It is your responsibility to protect yourself against identify theft. Keep you personal
identifying information secure from prying eyes. Always carefully shred any
documents with personal identifying information that needs to be discarded.
DO NOT provide your personal data such as your name, date of birth, social security number,
bank account information, credit card number, etc to anyone who does not need to have that
information. If you are suspicious of anyone who is asking you for personal identifying information,
always check on the credibility of the person before you provide such information.
This information provides a very general overview of the U.S. legal system. It is not intended
to be a substitute for legal advice if you find yourself with a legal problem. Each case is
different and is fact dependent. If you find yourself with a legal problem(s), The WVU
Student Legal Services Office is available to educate students about their legal rights,
responsibilities and obligations. Students can visit: http://studentlegalservices.wvu.edu/ for
more information, call 304-293-4897 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.
The service is available to all registered students at West Virginia University.