College Student Criminal Defense in Hunterdon County

College campuses can sometimes feel like islands of quiet and safety, surrounded by the harsher "real world" environment of whatever town or city they're located in. However, crimes happen on campus too, and schools across the country, including in New Jersey, work hard to protect their students, faculty, staff, and visitors. All schools have policies and procedures designed to address crime that takes place on campus, and, for most schools, these can also be used to discipline students who are accused of committing certain crimes off-campus.

If you are a student in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, who has been accused of a crime by your college or university or who is being disciplined by your school for an off-campus arrest or criminal charge, contact the Lento Law Firm for help. Our experienced criminal attorneys have helped students and other clients all across New Jersey, and we're ready to help you protect your rights. Call us today at 888.535.3686, or schedule a confidential consultation online.

Hunterdon County Charges and School Discipline

Colleges and universities regularly work together with local law enforcement when crime occurs on campus or when students living off campus commit crimes either at school or in nearby communities. If campus security or other personnel discover that a student has committed a crime on campus, they are very likely to notify local law enforcement, who will then determine whether to arrest the student and refer the matter to prosecutors.

Similarly, if a student is arrested for committing a crime off-campus, the police will very often notify the student's college or university about the arrest, particularly where the victim is another student or a faculty member or employee of the school. The school will then make a decision, based on the situation and its own disciplinary policies, whether to bring disciplinary action against the student.

How allegations of criminal behavior are handled by local police and a student's school can vary widely depending on the situation. For example, if the victim of an on-campus crime contacts local police instead of campus security, the matter may be handled first by the police and then turned over to the school if the police believe a student is responsible. If the victim contacts campus security first, local police may not become involved at all. In cases involving off-campus crime allegedly committed by a student, whether the student's school becomes involved depends entirely on whether anyone reports the allegations to the school.

One big problem if you're a student accused of an on-campus or off-campus crime is that you may end up being prosecuted by the police and disciplined by your school for the same behavior. In some cases, even if criminal charges against you are dropped, your school may still assert disciplinary charges against you. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney who also understands the interplay between criminal charges and campus disciplinary proceedings can make all the difference when it comes to the outcome of both your off-campus criminal case and your on-campus disciplinary proceeding.

Consequences of Criminal Charges and School Discipline

It should come as no surprise that criminal charges can seriously disrupt your life and even bring a sudden end to your college career. Simply facing and defending yourself against allegations that you've committed a crime can wear on you; the uncertainty of knowing what to do to properly defend yourself against the accusations, the stress of having a criminal record, and the time all of it steals from your studies can leave you exhausted and feeling as though the whole world is against you.

As noted above, almost all schools have code of conduct policies in place that allow them to discipline students for both on-campus misconduct and a wide range of off-campus misconduct. These policies specifically relate to "misconduct," which can include crimes but also other behavior that is not criminal. This is why schools can still discipline students who are arrested off campus, even in situations where criminal charges are dropped.

And discipline can be severe. While in some cases, it might be as mild as a verbal warning or reprimand, in other cases, schools can place students on probation, restrict their access to campus housing and other campus buildings, suspend them from participating in campus extracurricular activities, and of course suspending or expelling them.

Being suspended or expelled from your college or university can be a life-altering experience. You may have serious difficulties enrolling at another school. It is likely to be more difficult to find a good job when you have a suspension or expulsion on your collegiate record. On top of all of this, your self-esteem is likely to suffer as you go through the disciplinary and criminal processes.

Campus Crimes

New Jersey law applies on college campuses in the same way it does throughout the state. As a result, committing a crime on campus can land you in prison the same way it could if you commit it in a nearby town. That said, there are a number of crimes that happen over and over again on college campuses in New Jersey. These include:

Alcohol Abuse

New Jersey prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from buying, possessing, or drinking alcohol.

Criminal Mischief

Vandalism in New Jersey is typically charged as criminal mischief. The severity of the crime can vary depending on the amount of "pecuniary loss" caused by the vandalism, but it can either be a third-degree or a fourth-degree crime. Sentences can range up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $15,000.

In addition to any penalty imposed by a court, someone convicted of criminal mischief for posting graffiti can also be required to pay the owner the cost of restoring the damaged property, as well as to provide 20 days or more of community service.

Disorderly Persons Offense

This is a broadly defined crime that essentially penalizes improper behavior, which can include fighting, threatening someone, making loud noises, disturbing the peace, pushing someone, or any other physical behavior that a law enforcement officer believes may generally upset the peace and order of the community. A college student charged with a disorderly person's offense faces up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Drug Offenses in Hunterdon County

There are a variety of drug offenses that college students can be charged with in Hunterdon County, based on New Jersey and federal law. What the charges are depend entirely on the type of drug, the quantity of the drug, whether the defendant intended the drugs for their personal use or was intent on distributing them to others, and a number of other factors that can vary depending on the situation. Convictions can result in years-long prison sentences as well as fines in the tens of thousands of dollars.

And while New Jersey has legalized cannabis possession for those 21 years of age and older, there are still laws on the books that limit the amount of marijuana people can own, and restrict them from distributing it to others. In addition, college campuses still prohibit marijuana possession and use even in states such as New Jersey where it's been broadly legalized.

Harassment and Hazing Offenses in Hunterdon County

It's a crime in New Jersey to harass someone – defined as communicating with someone in a way that is likely to cause "annoyance or alarm." Hazing is also prohibited; New Jersey defines this as being responsible for putting someone in danger in the course of fraternity or sorority initiations.

New Jersey also criminalizes cyber harassment, making threats, and sending or asking someone to send lewd or indecent materials over the Internet. If a student or a member of a college's faculty or staff are being harassed or threatened in any way, or if a student is being hazed by a sorority or fraternity, the college is likely to report this to local authorities for investigation and possible criminal enforcement.

Sex Crimes in Hunterdon County

New Jersey criminalizes a range of sex crimes, including sexual assault (also called rape), aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, and indecent exposure. If convicted of a sex crime in Hunterdon County you could face years of prison time, a large fine, and end up being placed on a registry of sex offenders for the rest of your life.

On-campus incidents of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual discrimination typically fall under the school's "Title IX" policy, which follows requirements imposed under federal law. The procedures are detailed, and the consequences can be severe. In many cases, schools will also refer Title IX violations to local law enforcement authorities for possible prosecution.

Stalking Crimes in Hunterdon County

It's not unusual for college students to be accused of stalking, which often happens when a relationship between two students ends unhappily. Stalking is a crime in New Jersey that's defined as repeatedly making attempts to contact, interfere with, or harass another person in a way that makes them fear for their safety or for the safety of someone else.

False Identification Offenses in Hunterdon County

Presenting or even owning a fake ID can result in a criminal charge in New Jersey. In addition, many campus codes of conduct also prohibit false identification. Incidents where someone obtains "personal identifying information" about another person without their authorization can also result in a criminal charge.

Hunterdon County Criminal Procedures

Crimes in Hunterdon County are prosecuted by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office, located in Flemington. Whether you've been charged with a crime for something that allegedly happened in Hunterdon County or in another part of New Jersey for something that allegedly took place on campus, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped students from all across New Jersey protect their rights in criminal prosecutions as well as in school disciplinary proceedings that relate to allegations of criminal activity, and we are ready to help you with your case.

The typical steps of a criminal prosecution in New Jersey involving a student are generally the same as those that apply to anyone else accused of a crime. These include:

  • Pretrial Hearings and Conferences. These include arraignments, bail hearings, and scheduling conferences. The student will be required to appear at many of these proceedings; in other cases, where the student is represented by an attorney, the student may not be required to appear.
  • Motions. A defendant might make a variety of pretrial motions. If the defense believes that the prosecutor lacks evidence to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, a motion to dismiss the case might be filed. Other motions may attempt to limit the types of evidence that can be used at trial, which witnesses can testify to, what they can testify to, and which charges are to be tried at trial.
  • Plea Negotiations. In almost every case, the prosecutor and the defendant's attorney will discuss whether the case can be resolved without a trial. Typically, this involves the defendant pleading guilty to one or more charges in return for the prosecutor recommending a particular sentence. While many cases get resolved through plea negotiations, it's very important to understand the implications – both at school and in "real life" – of pleading guilty to any crime before doing so. An experienced defense attorney can help understand what the impact of a plea deal might be.
  • Trial. At trial, the prosecution will go first and will present the evidence against the defendant. The defendant can challenge the introduction of evidence, object to questions the prosecution asks its witnesses, and cross-examine witnesses. If the prosecution's evidence doesn't support the charges, the defense can ask the judge to dismiss the case before the defense presents its side of the case. The defense will also be able to present its own evidence and witnesses, but it's not required to do so, and it can rest its case based on the weakness of the prosecution's case.
  • Sentencing. If the defendant is found guilty, the court will sentence the defendant at a later date. Both the prosecutor and the defendant will typically be allowed to provide the court with information and arguments supporting their view of what the sentence should be.
  • Appeal. A convicted defendant has a right to an appeal. Appeals first are heard by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. In some cases, decisions of the Appellate Division may be appealed to New Jersey's Supreme Court.

A criminal conviction can also affect your status as a student. It's not unusual for schools to discipline students who have been found guilty – or who have pled guilty – to crimes. This can result in a second level of punishment, one that can find you suspended or expelled from college in addition to having a criminal record. Working with one of the experienced attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will help you minimize the possibility that you'll suffer two penalties for a single criminal charge.

School Disciplinary Procedures

Each college or university has its own set of policies and procedures that relate to accusations of misconduct against students. Typically, these include the following steps:

  • Complaint and Investigation. A complaint is filed with the school. This can come from a student, a faculty member, a school employee, or any member of the public. As noted above, sometimes law enforcement will notify a school that a student has been charged with a crime, in which case the school may bring the complaint. The school will investigate the complaint and determine whether to bring disciplinary charges against the student.
  • Charges and Pre-Hearing Conference. Many schools will file charges against the student, describe the evidence on which the charges are based, and propose a penalty to be imposed against the student. Then, the student will have a chance to meet with school officials to discuss the charges and attempt to resolve them without a hearing. In most cases, students can have an attorney present at this stage, which can be enormously helpful when it comes to resolving matters without going to a hearing.
  • Hearing. Cases that can't be resolved with an agreement will move to the hearing stage. Both the school and the student will typically be able to present evidence and witnesses and cross-examine the witnesses who testify for the other side. The standards for hearings, however, are typically not as rigorous as those for criminal court cases. As a result, evidence that a court might refuse to admit will often be allowed in school disciplinary cases. The burden of proof is lower, too; at most schools, it's "more likely than not," which is a lower standard than the criminal standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt."
  • Ruling. After the hearing, the hearing officer or panel may ask both sides to submit proposed findings. In any case, at some point, a ruling will be issued, which should describe the reasons for the ruling and the penalty to be imposed.
  • Appeal. Most schools have an appeal process, but the student must pay close attention to the time limits for an appeal and follow the procedures so that the appeal will be heard.

School disciplinary proceedings are generally less formal than criminal court cases, but that informality can make the school proceedings less fair to an accused student. Working with an experienced attorney who understands both criminal law and school disciplinary policies and procedures can make an enormous difference in how both situations – criminal and school disciplinary – are resolved.

Premier Hunterdon County, NJ School, and Criminal Defense Attorney

The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team includes attorneys with years of experience with both criminal cases and school disciplinary proceedings in New Jersey. We understand how important it is to you to protect your future, both against a criminal conviction and against serious school discipline. Our experienced attorneys know how to protect your rights in your criminal case as well as in your school disciplinary proceeding, and we are able to keep both in mind when we fight for your rights.

If you've been accused of a crime that could result in a school disciplinary charge, or if your school disciplinary charge could lead to criminal charges as well, call the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team for help. We can be reached at 888.535.3686 or by using our contact form to schedule a confidential consultation. We understand how upsetting it can be to face criminal charges and school discipline, and we're here to listen and to help.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.