While most colleges are a haven for students, it does not mean that crime does not happen there. In fact, crimes happen every day on Mercer County, New Jersey, college and university campuses. However, colleges and universities have an obligation to keep their faculty, staff, students, and visitors safe and out of harm's way.
To uphold this mandate, they have created policies to ensure they are identifying, deterring, and disciplining individuals they believe are committing such crimes. As such, all faculty, staff, and other teachers, as well as campus police and private security services, are tasked with reporting any incident they hear of or witness.
Essentially, you have a higher likelihood of being charged with a crime on a Mercer County college or university campus than you do for the same misconduct committed off campus. Moreover, when a student is accused of a crime on campus, they can be punished both by the school and law enforcement.
Hiring an attorney when you are accused of a crime by your college or university is the only way to ensure you are not being punished unnecessarily. The Lento Law Firm has years of experience helping individuals defend themselves against criminal accusations. Call 888-535-3686 today for help, or schedule a consultation online.
Mercer County Charges and School Discipline
When a school discovers that a student might be responsible for a crime on campus, they may notify law enforcement. Law enforcement will then determine if there is probable cause for an arrest. If they believe there is, they will arrest the student and inform the state prosecutor of the charges.
The inverse is true for law enforcement. If they believe the student's school should know of a criminal offense that took place on or off campus, they will inform the school. The school will then decide if they should also discipline the student.
For instance, if a student is accused of sexually assaulting a non-student in their dorm room, but the non-student victim notified the police, the police may inform the school. The school can then decide if they are going to punish the student as well. Alternatively, if a witness reports the student for sexual assault to the school, the school can decide if they should notify the police of the supposed incident. If they do, the police can decide if there is enough preliminary evidence to bring criminal charges.
To ensure you are not being adjudicated by both your school and the state, you will need the guidance of a skilled criminal defense attorney who understands how both the legal system and the school's disciplinary procedures work.
Consequences of Criminal Charges and School Discipline
Being accused of misconduct on campus is overwhelming. Whether the accusation comes from the police, the school, or both, it can have disastrous effects on your personal and professional life. However, many students believe that school disciplinary actions have fewer consequences than criminal charges and convictions might. This is not always the case. For instance, while school disciplinary actions can prevent you from taking certain classes, participating in extracurriculars, and potentially removing you from your on-campus housing, they can also have you suspended or expelled from school.
When students are suspended or expelled from their college or university, it will affect their futures in a number of ways. Firstly, it can greatly impact their self-esteem and mental health. Additionally, if the student decides that they want to continue their education at another university or graduate school, the new school will want to know what caused them to be suspended or expelled. Thus, these types of punishments can bar a student from going after the future they want, limiting their earning potential and harming them psychologically.
Mercer County Campus Crimes
How you behave on campus can still result in criminal charges. Colleges and universities do not have immunity from the New Jersey criminal code. So, if you are caught committing a crime on campus, you could face possible imprisonment.
Some of the most common crimes on Mercer County college or university campuses are listed below.
Alcohol and tobacco abuse
According to NJ law, it is a crime for a person under 21 to purchase, possess, or drink alcohol.
Individuals who vandalize campus property can be charged with criminal mischief. One of the more common sentences for this offense is forcing the defendant to pay for the cost of repair.
However, in Mercer County, if an individual is accused of doing graffiti, they have to do at least 20 days of community service, paying fines or restitution, or serving jail time. If the defendant is accused of a higher form of criminal mischief, the penalties might include larger fines and increased prison terms.
Disorderly Persons Offense
New Jersey legislation makes it illegal to behave improperly (i.e., fighting or making threats). Any kind of screaming, yelling, disturbing the peace, or shoving someone can be charged as a disorderly persons offense by law enforcement. If a student is found guilty of this crime, it will result in a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
Mercer County Drug Offenses
Drug offenses in Mercer County rely on state and federal controlled substance schedules. This means that depending on where the drug lands on the controlled substance schedules, the amount of drugs found, and whether the defendant was going to distribute them, as well as other factors surrounding the case, the defendant could be facing several years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. Marijuana possession laws can also have harsh sentences, including 18 months in jail and up to $15,000 in fines, depending on the quantity found.
Mercer County Harassment and Hazing Offenses
While hazing might sound like something that only happens on college and university campuses, it's actually been criminalized by New Jersey. Under New Jersey law, harassment is defined as a series of alarming or annoying conduct, and hazing is defined as endangering another person during sorority or fraternity initiations.
Other offenses that New Jersey criminalizes include cyber harassment, threats, and sending or requesting lewd or indecent materials electronically. If a college or university discovers a student or staff member is being harassed or hazed, they will protect them by notifying local authorities.
Mercer County Sex Crimes
According to New Jersey law, there are several sex crimes, including rape, aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, and indecent exposure. If you are convicted of a sex crime in Mercer County, NJ, you could be incarcerated for several years, forced to pay a fine, and placed on the sex registry.
When students are accused of a sex crime by another student or faculty member, the college or university must perform a Title IX investigation if they receive federal funding. Thus, the school will also support local law enforcement when they are investigating students for sex crimes that happen on or off campus.
Mercer County Stalking Crimes
Stalking is defined by NJ legislature as repeatedly attempting to follow a person, keep a person in view, or communicate with a person, interfere with a person's property, or harass a person in a way that puts them in fear for their safety or the safety of someone else.
Mercer County False Identification Offenses
Another crime that happens often on college and university campuses is false identification crimes. Under New Jersey law, false identification crimes include impersonation, making false statements about one's identity, and identity theft.
Mercer County Criminal Procedures
Contacting a skilled criminal attorney is the first thing you should do when you are charged with a criminal offense for a crime that allegedly happened on campus. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped hundreds of students around the state of New Jersey who have been accused of on-campus crimes.
Generally, when a student is accused of a criminal offense in New Jersey, the case will follow the steps below:
- Pretrial procedures. Once a student is charged, they will be forced to attend pretrial procedures, like arraignments and bail hearings. The point of pretrial procedures is to give both sides the chance to build their arguments prior to going to trial.
- The burden of proof. For most criminal offenses, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution. This means that the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the accused crime.
- Motion to dismiss. If the defense discovers the prosecution does not have enough evidence prior to the trial to prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense can move for a motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss would effectively drop the case without wasting the court's time.
- Trial. At trial, both the prosecution and the defense will present their cases, witnesses, and evidence. They will also cross-examine one another's evidence and witness testimony. Once they both rest their cases, the court will review the information presented and decide whether the defendant is guilty or not.
- Sentencing. If the court finds the defendant guilty, they will hold another meeting to decide what sentence to impose.
It is important to understand that a criminal conviction can influence your school. If they see that the state has found you guilty of a criminal offense that occurred on campus or involved the school in some way, they may try to discipline you as well. Working with an attorney will ensure you are not being punished unnecessarily by both the state and your school.
Mercer County School Disciplinary Procedures
When you are accused of a criminal act, the police and prosecutors have the right to notify your college or university of the incident. If the alleged incident occurred on campus or is somehow related to the school, the school has the option to file additional disciplinary charges against you. The specific disciplinary proceedings will depend on the school you attend.
For the most part, the disciplinary process in schools looks like this:
- Complaint. The corresponding office is notified of the alleged misconduct.
- Interview and investigation. That office notifies the complainant and the accused student of the complaint and appoints an investigator to look into the issue further.
- Pre-hearing conference. The investigator will put together a report of what they learned during the interviews and give it to the corresponding office. The office will set up pre-hearing conferences to see if the accused student will confess to the incident or agree to penalties without going through a formal hearing.
- Hearing. When the accused student disagrees with the punishment suggested, or with the overall accusation, the parties will meet at a hearing where they will be given the chance to present their arguments. They will also have the opportunity to cross-examine each other.
- Decisions. Once both sides have been heard, the hearing officer or panel will deliberate and decide if the student is responsible for the accused misconduct. If they find that they are, the school will impose sanctions on them. Usually, sanctions range from a formal reprimand to suspension or expulsion, depending on the school's code of conduct.
- Appeal. When the student receives the hearing decision, they will also receive steps to appeal it.
While criminal proceedings usually take precedence over the school disciplinary proceedings, schools are still expected to protect their students, faculty, and staff, from the accused student. They also are supposed to protect the accused student by providing them with notice of the proceedings, allowing them to have an attorney present, and maintaining a clear level of investigation to ensure students aren't being accused without true cause.
Premier Mercer County, NJ School, and Criminal Defense Attorney
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows the consequences of failing in either a school disciplinary action or a criminal defense. As such, they will work diligently to leverage their experience and skills to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. Protect your personal freedoms and professional future. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online. Lento Law Firm can help.