Attending college is often a person's first experience living away from the watchful eyes of their family members. Students have a newfound freedom unlike anything they have experienced before. While we all hope to prepare our children to make good decisions in college, we all make mistakes in our youth. Students may feel like their college campus is their bubble, insulated from the rest of the world, but committing a crime on a college campus can have real-life serious consequences.
Whether it's criminal charges or school discipline, committing a crime on campus can negatively affect a student's life. Criminal charges can result in fines, jail time, and permanent criminal records. While school disciplinary action won't land you in jail, you could face severe consequences such as expulsion, preventing transferring to another college or university, acceleration of student loan repayment, loss of campus housing, medical care, and more.
If you or your child has committed a crime on a Burlington County college campus, you must retain counsel immediately; you likely have a battle on many fronts ahead. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. Our Team focuses on both criminal defense and defending students facing disciplinary action at their college or university, ensuring you get the best possible outcome in both proceedings. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online today.
Burlington County Campus Crimes
While colleges and universities may operate like their own towns with their own security and police presence, they are not insulted from the outside world. The same criminal code that applies throughout Burlington County applies on campus. Students are not immune from their actions just because they occurred on campus. There are many crimes which can occur on a college campus, but the most common are as follows:
Underage Alcohol Use
Perhaps the most common crime college students find themselves facing is charges for the underage use of alcohol. New Jersey, like every other state in the country, prohibits the purchase, possession, and drinking of alcoholic beverages in a public place, motor vehicle, or school. This crime is often referred to as a minor in possession of alcohol charge, or "MIP." If you are charged, you can face up to 180 days in jail and fines between $500 and $1,000. For first offenses, your Lento Law Firm team may be able to minimize the consequences, so you may only be ordered to community service or an alcohol use counseling program.
The term criminal mischief is just a fancy term for vandalism or property damage. New Jersey law defines criminal mischief as purposely or knowingly damaging tangible property or purposely, knowingly, or recklessly tampering with tangible property of another as to endanger a person or property. Common examples of criminal mischief include stealing street signs or putting up graffiti. If you have committed this crime, you will likely be responsible for the financial cost of repairing any damage you have caused. But, the more severe the crime, the more severe the penalties; imprisonment and thousands of dollars in fines are a real possibility.
Disorderly conduct is a broad charge that is often combined with other charges, such as the underage use of alcohol. It is another very common crime on college campuses. In New Jersey, disorderly conduct can include fighting or threatening others, creating hazardous or dangerous conditions, or using offensive or abusive language in public. Penalties for disorderly conduct include 30 days in jail and a fine of $500.
Drug offenses are taken extremely seriously on campuses and with law enforcement, particularly possession in large amounts or with intent to distribute. New Jersey drug laws cover possession of federally scheduled drugs, for example, heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy, amongst others. Consequences for these crimes are steep; you could face up to five years in prison, be responsible for up to $25,000 in fines, and potentially be subject to court-ordered drug counseling.
- Make, or cause to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or harm
- Threatens to or subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching
- Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with the purpose of alarming or seriously annoying another person
How law enforcement and the courts interpret harassment can vary from officer, prosecutor, and judge. When facing these charges, having skilled attorneys on your side is crucial. The Lento Law Firm has successfully represented many New Jersey defendants charged with harassment.
Harassment charges can also be brought for cyber harassment. New Jersey law defines cyber harassment as participating in any of the following acts to harass another person:
- Threatening to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person
- Sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests or proposes lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person to cause emotional harm or fear
- Threatening to commit any crime against a person or their property
The penalties for a harassment conviction can include jail time of up to 30 days and a $500 fine.
Hazing is common on college campuses, particularly at schools participating in Greek life (e.g., sororities and fraternities) and even some intramural or campus organizations. New Jersey has two laws that address hazing. The first hazing law states that a person is guilty of hazing if they:
- Knowingly or recklessly organizes, promotes, facilitates, or engages in any conduct which places or may place another person in danger of bodily injury (there is an exclusion for competitive athletics events); and
- The actions are made in connection with the initiation of applicants or members of a student or fraternal organization.
The second hazing law is about what the state calls aggravated hazing. One is guilty of aggravated hazing if the abovementioned criteria are met, and a serious injury occurs to another person as a result.
Sex crimes are some of the most serious charges you can face. If you are found guilty of rape, aggravated assault, criminal sexual assault, indecent exposure, or other sex crimes, you could face years of jail time, heavy fines, and a lifetime listing on the sex offender registry. Colleges and universities are required to investigate all sex crime allegations, whether the event occurred on or off campus, and will work closely with law enforcement.
Consequences of Criminal Charges
The most concerning thing about any of these crimes is that a conviction of this charge will be visible during criminal background checks, which employers commonly use in the hiring process. Many employers are deterred from hiring anyone with a criminal history; you cannot afford to have these crimes on your record. The Lento Law Firm will do everything possible to prevent a conviction that could ruin your future career prospects.
Burlington Country Criminal Procedures
If you have been charged with a crime in Burlington County, your case will generally follow this timeline:
After you are charged, you and your Lento Law Firm Team will attend pre-trial conferences, and both sides will have time to build their arguments.
Motion to Dismiss
If your attorneys believes there is insufficient evidence against you to meet the burden of proof, they may file a motion to dismiss your case. The prosecution must meet a certain burden of proof to win in court; this burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime.
Your Lento Law Firm attorneys will present your side of the story and attack the prosecution's evidence and witness testimony at trial. The court will then determine if you are guilty.
A hearing will be scheduled to determine an appropriate punishment
if you are found guilty.
Effective counsel from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is crucial to maximizing your chances of maintaining your innocence. Additionally, it is incredibly important for your academic future for you to minimize consequences and hopefully avoid a criminal conviction. It is not uncommon for a college or university to find guilt in a criminal proceeding as justification for school disciplinary action.
Burlington County School Disciplinary Procedures
All colleges and universities will have their own procedures for student disciplinary actions. Many schools have a student conduct office with staff designated specifically to investigating complaints of student misconduct; for example, at Rowan College in Burlington County, the relevant office is the Office of the Dean of Student Success, which is tasked with implementing the Student Code of Conduct.
When dealing with a school's conduct office, it often doesn't occur to students or their parents that an attorney is necessary, but you have the right to be advised by an attorney every step of the way. Just because a college disciplinary investigation or action is not a legal proceeding does not mean you should go in alone. The moment you hear that your Office of Student Conduct is investigating you, you should pursue your right to retain counsel. Your Lento Law Firm attorneys will help you prepare for interviews and ensure your side of the story and evidence are fairly presented.
If you have been accused of committing a crime, law enforcement and prosecutors are entitled to notify your college or university of the criminal investigation or proceedings against you. Once the school has been notified of such action, it is up to them whether or not to pursue disciplinary action against you. They may wait to take action until your criminal proceedings have concluded. Each school will have its own procedures, but generally, the disciplinary process follows this trajectory:
The Office of Student Conduct will receive a complaint, typically from law enforcement, prosecutors, the victim, or their friends or family.
The Office of Student Conduct will designate an investigator to your case. This investigator will collect evidence, interview you, the victim, and witnesses, and compile a report.
The pre-hearing conference is where the investigator will discuss the findings in their report and attempt to come to an agreement with the student without pursuing a formal hearing. If the Office of Student Conduct believes you have committed the crime, they will likely ask you to confess and comply with penalties, suspension, expulsion, or more. Having your Lento Law Firm attorneys present at the pre-hearing conference ensures your college or university negotiates fairly.
If you cannot come to an agreement with your college or university and disagree with the proposed disciplinary action, you will proceed with a formal hearing. While this is not a legal proceeding, it is similar in that evidence will be presented, witness testimony and cross-examination. Your Lento Law Firm attorneys should be present to ensure your story is heard and evidence is presented, painting you in the best possible light.
After the hearing, you will be notified of your college or university's decision on whether they are choosing to punish you and, if so, what punishment they have deemed appropriate.
You are entitled to an appeal if you disagree with your college or university's decision. The notice containing the school's decision will include the procedures for filing an appeal. The Lento Law Firm has helped numerous New Jersey students appeal their school's disciplinary actions against them and is here to help you. Getting a more favorable decision on appeal isn't far-fetched, so you should always discuss the viability of this option with your Lento Law Firm attorneys.
Retain the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Today
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands what is at stake when you are facing a criminal charge, a school disciplinary action, or both. The Team will tirelessly fight for you to get the best possible outcome and protect your future. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.