College Student Criminal Defense in Somerset County

Somerset County is not only the wealthiest county in New Jersey; its residents also place a high premium on a college education. Almost sixty percent of Somerset residents have at least a bachelor's degree, the highest rate in New Jersey.

If and when a college or graduate student faces criminal charges in Somerset County, the pressure can be all the more intense because of the area's emphasis on education. Students facing criminal charges may find their reputation damaged and their future opportunities limited. A conviction may limit their ability to work in certain industries and could damage their ability to go to graduate school.

Students may also face disciplinary action related to criminal charges through their school. These punishments can range from written reprimands up to and including expulsion.

That a crime occurred in a different county or state than where you live or where you attend school doesn't matter. Schools can discipline students even when the incident occurred off campus grounds and away from school activities.

If you're a college or graduate student facing criminal charges or disciplinary action, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. You've worked hard to get to where you're at in your education, and one allegation could knock down all of your work and all of your plans. Contact us using this form or by calling us at 888-535-3686.

Double Jeopardy in Somerset County

Students may face both criminal charges and disciplinary action stemming from the same incident. While the U.S. legal system prohibits double jeopardy, which is trying someone for the same crime twice, that doesn't apply to situations involving criminal charges and college discipline.

The criminal process and the college disciplinary process are different. One involves criminal charges and allegations of violating the law. The other involves a student violating a school's code of conduct.

A school may refer an incident to law enforcement. Law enforcement may notify a school of a student's alleged criminal behavior. The school and law enforcement will then each proceed with an investigation and their procedure.

A student may avoid a criminal conviction but still face disciplinary action. A college or university may not discipline a student even if a student is found guilty of committing a crime.

As Rutgers University points out, a disciplinary investigation and criminal charges may occur simultaneously or before or after each other. Some students may find that they're balancing both a criminal conviction and disciplinary investigation while also trying to focus on their classes.

That a student has a criminal charge against them doesn't mean they're guilty. This is also the case with a disciplinary investigation. Law enforcement or college officials may not have all of the relevant evidence, or a student may have a defense to their actions.

Be Proactive

Navigating either the criminal system or the disciplinary process can be overwhelming. Trying to juggle both at the same time may seem impossible.

Students may believe that it's easier to agree to whatever charges or discipline is suggested to move on with their lives. They may think they're innocent and trust that the process will prove it. Such decisions can result in affecting a student's life and future for years, if not decades.

Rutgers University, for example, keeps disciplinary records for a decade after any disciplinary action. The exception is expulsion, which the university keeps track of permanently. As the university points point, both employers and graduate programs may require a student to submit any disciplinary record as part of an application process.

When facing criminal charges or discipline, students need to be proactive. They need to understand their options. They need to know how the two processes differ and how to navigate both.

The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team helps our clients decide how to proceed and what options are best for their situation. Even if a student did commit the action in question, they may be able to get a lesser punishment or mount a defense.

Colleges and Universities in Somerset County

Students may live in Somerset County while attending college or university in another county or state. Criminal charges are generally based on the county in which an incident took place.

For example, a student's family resides in Somerset County while they attend college in New York. While home for the summer, the student is charged with a DWI. The charges will be in Somerset County, and a student may have to travel back to the county even after school begins.

Somerset County is home to Raritan Valley Community College. The school has transfer agreements with several colleges and universities nationwide, and a disciplinary or criminal record may affect a student's ability to transfer.

Approximately 75 percent of colleges and universities request a student's disciplinary history as part of the application process. Of those schools, 90 percent state that a disciplinary record can influence admissions decisions.

Somerset County Campus Crimes

When a crime occurs on a college campus, a school may refer the incident to law enforcement. Schools must follow New Jersey law and federal law. In some cases, schools may follow a different set of laws than the rest of Somerset County.

Alcohol Use

Anyone under the age of 21 found to use or possess alcohol may face criminal charges. If found to have any alcohol in their system while driving, someone under 21 years of age will be charged with a DWI.

Schools may also have additional rules limiting alcohol use on campus, and students over 21 may still face alcohol-related charges. In New Jersey, anyone over 21 who is found to have a BAC above .08 will be charged with a DWI.

New Jersey also prohibits anyone over the age of 21 from providing alcohol to underage individuals. This includes making a residence or other building available for underage students to drink. Even if not present when the drinking occurs, the renter or owner of a property may still be charged.

Marijuana and Drug Use

In New Jersey, individuals over 21 may possess and use marijuana. This isn't the case on college campuses, which follow federal law. Possessing, using, or distributing marijuana on campus is generally forbidden, even if over 21 years of age.

In addition, some marijuana and controlled substance convictions may also result in a student losing access to federal financial aid. Students may also lose scholarships.


New Jersey uses a narrow definition of hazing. An incident is considered hazing when:

  • It occurs as part of an initiation to join a student or fraternal organization
  • The organization's membership is predominantly students or alumni

Even if a student isn't charged under hazing laws, they may still be charged with other crimes. For example, a student allegedly harassed a student as part of a fraternity initiation. While the incident was found to not be part of the fraternity initiation and the anti-hazing laws don't apply, the student may still be charged with harassment.


A person's behavior or actions may be viewed as stalking when they follow or otherwise act in a way that would make a reasonable person fear for their or someone else's safety. The following actions are examples of behavior that may be considered stalking:

  • Repeatedly staying physically close to or within sight range of someone
  • Directly or indirectly following, surveilling, or observing someone
  • Communicating any threats to a person

Stalking may result in criminal charges or a restraining order. Most schools prohibit stalking in their codes of conduct and are required, under federal law, to report stalking, along with domestic violence and dating violence.

Sex Crimes

Sex crimes cover violence that occurs during or related to a sexual act. A conviction may end with placement on a sex offender registry. Sex crimes include:

  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Criminal sexual conduct
  • Internet sex crimes
  • Sexting

Colleges and universities must follow Title IX in crafting policies about sex crimes. Raritan Valley Community College prohibits all forms of interpersonal violations, which covers sex crimes.

Sex crimes come with significant criminal penalties. Even allegations can seriously damage a person's reputation.

Domestic Violence

Even if domestic violence occurs off campus, students may still face both disciplinary action and criminal charges.

In New Jersey, domestic violence is not a crime in itself. Rather, it may be added to other charges, such as stalking or assault, and the accused and victim must meet one of the eligible relationships.

Domestic violence allegations may result in losing any firearms, even those legally obtained, and a restraining order. College codes of conduct may also have different definitions of domestic violence and partner violence.

Raritan Valley Community College, for example, prohibits all forms of interpersonal violations. The school specifically mentions both domestic violence and dating violence, which means:

  • Misdemeanor or felony offenses committed against a current or former spouse, a current or former cohabitant, or anyone protected under domestic or family violence laws
  • Harming or injuring anyone with whom someone is in a romantic relationship

Internet Crimes

New Jersey laws prohibit online harassment, bullying, and stalking. Internet crimes may also overlap with other crimes. Most colleges and universities now have code of conduct policies on online behavior, regardless of whether the incident occurs off school grounds or outside of school activities.

Criminal Mischief

The legal term for property damage in New Jersey criminal mischief charges depends on several factors. The cost to repair or replace the damaged or destroyed property and the location of the damage can also factor into sentencing.

Individuals may be found guilty of criminal mischief when they:

  • Intentionally or knowingly damage someone else's tangible property
  • Recklessly or negligently destroy someone else's property through fire, explosives, or other dangerous means
  • Purposefully, knowingly, or recklessly tamper with someone else's tangible property to endanger another person or property
  • Destroy property in certain locations, such as a college laboratory, may result in stiffer penalties.

Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly conduct charges stem from actions or behavior that cause a public disturbance. New Jersey defines public to include schools, apartment buildings, and neighborhoods.

Students may face charges of disorderly conduct when they:

  • Engage in a fight or other threatening, violent, or tumultuous behavior
  • Create a hazard or other physical danger without any legitimate purpose
  • Use offensive language in a public place when intended to offend others or showing reckless disregard for the likelihood of offending others

Somerset County Criminal Procedure

Everyone charged with a crime is entitled to due process under the law. This means that your rights to a fair trial and other legal protections aren't limited because you've been charged with a crime.

The county in which a crime allegedly occurs is generally responsible for filing charges and conducting the criminal case. Once charges are filed, cases will generally follow these steps:

  • Initial appearance and pre-trial procedures
  • Trial
  • Sentencing

Charges may be dropped during the process due to insufficient evidence. The accused may also accept a plea bargain instead of a trial.

Plea Bargain

A plea bargain is an agreement between the two sides that an individual will agree to plead guilty, often to a lesser charge, in exchange for an agreed-upon penalty. These penalties are usually less than the maximum sentencing.

An individual must not be pressured into this decision. It's the individual's choice if they want to accept a plea deal or go to court. Once they agree to a plea bargain, they lose their right to appeal.

Pretrial Intervention Program

In New Jersey, some first-time, nonviolent offenders may be eligible for the Pretrial Intervention (PTI) Program. This option allows individuals to avoid a conviction.

For those who are eligible, PTI focuses on counseling, supervision, and other services to help them get their lives back on track and avoid future criminal charges. Individuals in the PTI program must satisfy conditions set by the court within 36 months of beginning the program.

Protect Your Education

Criminal charges can affect your education, your future, and your reputation. Even “minor” crimes can limit employment prospects or hurt your education.

If you're facing criminal charges and disciplinary proceedings, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. You've worked hard to get to this point in your education, and we help our clients understand their options and find a path that minimizes the damage to their goals and future. Contact us using this form or by calling us at 888-535-3686.

​​​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.

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