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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

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Former Florida Gators pitcher Stephen Locke was kicked off the team in January following a DUI charge. Gainesville police claimed Locke was driving erratically and smelled like alcohol. Locke had not been found guilty of DUI, but the University's history of enforcing DUIs seems to have had a hand in the decision to preemptively kick Locke off the team.

UF punishes students caught driving drunk on and off campus. Since fall 2005, the university has reviewed 214 DUI cases and suspended 94 students, said Chris Loschiavo, UF's director of student conduct and conflict resolution.

"Generally speaking, we tell students you can expect to be suspended for a minimum of one semester," Loschiavo said

If the Gator Baseball team knows that about 40% of UF students charged with DUI are kicked out of school for a semester, it makes sense that they send Locke away. After all, Locke can't pitch when he's not a student. However, the law has stepped in a little too late.

Charges of driving under the influence against a former University of Florida baseball player are being dropped because of a lack of evidence, State Attorney Bill Cervone said Saturday.

Stephen Kendall Locke Jr., 22, of 3000 SW 35th Place, was arrested Jan. 24 after Officer Daniel Surrency said he observed erratic driving, pulled Locke over and wrote in an arrest report that Locke's speech was slurred and that he needed to balance himself against the car.

Cervone said evidence from the police-car video does not substantiate the allegations.

Should Locke have been driving erratically? No. Should the GPD officer ignored him? No. But should Locke have been kicked off the team?

The problem with UF's alcohol policy is that a charge is enough to get the wheels of enforcement in motion. While Locke is an extreme case, an athlete who gets his charge dropped, the average student who gets a DUI is out of school before they can get kicked out. The last thing a student needs is a suspension, so it is better to withdraw before the university can get you. But, that student won't have his name in the paper or lose her athletic scholarship.

UF has every right to enforce a strict alcohol policy. They do not have the right to assume someone is guilty. By making statements that students, "can expect to be suspended for a minimum of one semester," UF has effectively created a policy that puts UF President Bernie Machen's War on Alcohol above a student's right to a fair hearing.

If Machen is serious about curbing alcohol abuse and preventing alcohol related injuries and deaths, he needs to start treating students like adults. Or at least pretend to. The epic fail of "Nobody Likes A Sloppy Gator" (which inspired a bar to be named "The Sloppy Gator" and served free beer at 4:20pm each week day), was the first mistake. Instead of spending money on brick walkways, spend the cash on street lighting so students don't have to drive five blocks to a bar because their street is too dark. Instead of spending money on anti-binge drinking signs designed to look like cartoons, fund more free taxis and buses to run on University Avenue. Instead of allowing 42 year old alumni to get tanked at their O'Dome tailgate, take away their beer just as you would a 22 year old student by Library West. And most of all, keep last call at 2am and make bars close at 3am or later. You cannot drive on University Ave. at 2am because it is packed with people. Big crowds of people + lines of traffic = accidents. If bars don't have to kick people out at 2am, crowds will be spread out. Anyone who has ever tried to leave the St. Augustine's lot at 2am knows how much humanity can pour out of bars all at once. Plus, the time between last call and close allows kids to sober up. I'm sure Italian Gator, Jimmy John's, NY Pizza and Pita Pit would appreciate the business too.

As long as Machen is president of UF, anyone suspected of DUI will be guilty until proven innocent. However, if a person is suspected of a different crime, they still have a chance at being exonerated. Such is the case of Carl Johnson. While I tried to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt when he was accused of date rape, among other issues, I was prepping him as the latest athlete to abuse his girlfriend. (To his credit, Gatorpilot was ready to wait for the law to move.) Johnson has now had all charges dismissed. In terms of his football career, Johnson is still at the mercy of Urban Meyer. But, his career as a citizen will not be weighed down by these charges. Johnson can move past this situation by not just playing to his ability, but also becoming a productive student and leader for UF. If he does that, he can clear his name with the jury of Gator fans.

Locke and Johnson are on opposite ends of the spectrum in more ways than one. In one case, Locke's school has abandoned him. For Johnson, fans and possibly his coach turned their backs on him. The take away is that as fans we should be more deliberate in how we apply our judgment because things are not always as they seem.