College Student Criminal Defense in Sussex County

When you're away at school or on a local campus such as the one at Sussex County Community College in Newton, it might feel as though the “real world” is off somewhere else and that many of the issues – and rules – that apply off campus aren't relevant. Unfortunately, that's not the case. There is crime that takes place on college campuses all across New Jersey and the country, and school officials are keenly aware of this. As a result, there are many school policies and procedures in place to help keep students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors safe. These can seriously affect students who are accused of committing crimes both on and off campus.

If you are a college student from Sussex County, New Jersey, and are facing disciplinary proceedings from your college or university or have been accused by your school of committing a crime, you need the kind of experienced help that the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can provide. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or schedule a confidential consultation to learn how we can help you protect your college career and your future.

Sussex County Charges and School Discipline

Most colleges or universities have close ties with local law enforcement. Their security personnel are in frequent contact with local police on matters ranging from vehicle crashes to minor – and major – crimes that take place on school property. And because many schools are closely knit with the communities where their campuses are located, when students commit crimes off-campus, the school will frequently hear about it.

That's why when a crime takes place on campus, it's not unusual for school security to notify local police, who can then decide whether to take the offender – student or not – into custody. When off-campus misconduct committed by a student, particularly misconduct that rises to the level of a crime, is brought to the school's attention, school officials will decide whether and how to discipline the student involved.

This can lead to a “double jeopardy” kind of situation, where a student accused of a crime can both be prosecuted by local authorities and disciplined by their school. And even where, for example, criminal charges are dropped by the local prosecutor, the school can still move forward with its disciplinary proceedings.

That's why it's important to retain an attorney who has experience defending students accused of crimes, one who understands that the student may also need to defend against a school disciplinary charge. This is where the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can be particularly helpful. Our experienced attorneys understand that actions taken in one case can affect the other case, and when we defend students accused of crimes, we are careful to consider the effect a decision in one proceeding might have on the other.

Consequences of Criminal Charges and School Discipline

Having to defend against a criminal charge while going to school adds a huge amount of stress to what is normally a fairly difficult period, where you're expected to absorb, understand, retain, and substantial amounts of information covering a wide range of subjects. Add to that the stress of dealing with a school disciplinary proceeding, and you can imagine how difficult life becomes.

Things get worse if you are convicted. Beginning your adult life with a criminal conviction can make it even more challenging than usual to begin and build a career. Employers are going to be much less interested in a candidate who has a criminal record, and depending on the conviction, you may be prohibited from accepting certain jobs or acquiring the license you need to practice certain professions.

Having a serious disciplinary punishment on your school record can similarly make your life difficult, particularly if you're suspended or expelled by your school. Employers or graduate schools that review your academic transcripts will see those types of punishments, and others, on your record and are likely to be less willing to hire or admit you.

Of course, schools can do more than simply suspend or expel students. They typically have policies in place that give them the discretion to impose a wide range of penalties against students found to have engaged in misconduct. This can include a verbal warning, written censure, prohibition from campus housing or other facilities, or suspension from school extracurricular activities. Any of these appearing on your record will be viewed as a negative and, of course, won't do your confidence any good.

Campus Crimes in Sussex County and New Jersey

State and federal criminal laws apply on college campuses just as they do in the surrounding communities. If you commit a crime on campus – for example, on the Sussex County Community College campus in Newton – you can be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced in the same way as if you'd committed the crime off campus in Newton or another New Jersey town.

But because colleges are different than towns – college communities are “self-selected,” made up of people who generally have a common goal of learning or supporting learning – there are a number of types of crimes that regularly occur on campuses across New Jersey. These include:

  • Criminal Mischief. This is another name for vandalism. The severity of a criminal mischief conviction will depend on the “pecuniary loss” caused by the vandalism. A criminal mischief conviction in New Jersey can be a third- or fourth-degree crime and can come with a prison sentence of up to 5 years and a fine of up to $15,000. In addition, where graffiti is involved, the defendant, if convicted, can be required to pay for the cost of restoring the defaced property in addition to being required to provide 20 days or more of community service.
  • Disorderly Persons Offense. This crime covers a wide range of generally disruptive behaviors, such as fighting, disturbing the peace or making loud noises, pushing and shoving, fighting, making threats, or any other actions that can be construed as upsetting the peace and order of the local community. Penalties can include up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
  • Alcohol Abuse. This is a very common charge with college students. New Jersey prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from buying, possessing, or drinking alcohol.
  • Drug Offenses. Drug-related crimes in Sussex and other New Jersey counties can cover a wide range of different types of drugs and can relate to the possession, consumption, or sale of prohibited drugs. The consequences to a student can be catastrophic, involving multi-year sentences and tens of thousands of dollars in fines. The fact that New Jersey has legalized cannabis for those 21 and older won't necessarily protect you from school discipline; all schools still prohibit students from having or using cannabis, which remains illegal under federal law.
  • Fake ID Crimes. Many college students own and use fake IDs; both of those are crimes in New Jersey. Colleges and universities also usually prohibit students from having or using fake IDs and will discipline students caught with them.
  • Harassment and Hazing Crimes. Harassment involves communicating with someone in a way that causes them, or is likely to cause them, “annoyance or alarm.” Hazing involves putting someone in danger in the course of fraternity or sorority initiations. Both are illegal in New Jersey and are typically prohibited by school conduct codes. Harassment goes beyond in-person actions and can be charged where the acts take place online.
  • Sex Crimes and Title IX Violations. A wide range of sex crimes are prohibited by both New Jersey law and by school codes of conduct. New Jersey laws severely penalize sexual assault (also known as rape), aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, and indecent exposure. Convictions can result in years- or decades-long prison sentences, large fines, and a continuing requirement to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life. Schools will discipline sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual discrimination as “Title IX” violations, frequently with severe consequences for the student accused of the violation.
  • Stalking. New Jersey defines stalking as making repeated attempts to contact, harass, or interfere with another person in a way that makes them fearful for themselves or someone else. Schools typically prohibit stalking as well.

Sussex County Criminal Procedures

If you're charged with a crime in Sussex County, you'll be prosecuted by the Sussex County Prosecutor's Office in Newton. If the crime allegedly took place outside of Sussex County, a different prosecutor will be responsible for your case. But no matter where in New Jersey your case may be taking place, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you defend yourself both against the criminal charges you're facing and against any school disciplinary proceedings you may be facing as a result.

If you're a student and are being prosecuted for an alleged crime in New Jersey – including in Sussex County – you can expect to encounter the following stages following your arrest:

  • Pretrial Conferences and Hearings. You will likely be required to appear at almost all of these, which can include arraignments, bail hearings, and scheduling conferences.
  • Motions. Defendants often make motions before trial, sometimes to dismiss the case outright, other times to limit the types of evidence or the witnesses the prosecution can bring. Sometimes, the motions seek information from the prosecutor that the defense attorney believes the prosecution has an obligation to disclose but has not.
  • Plea Negotiations. It's a statistical fact that the vast majority of criminal cases do not go to trial but result in a plea agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant. This is where working with an experienced criminal defense attorney from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can make a significant difference – particularly because our attorneys also regularly defend students in school misconduct proceedings. As a result, in addition to having someone with extensive plea negotiation experience working on your behalf, that same attorney will also be keeping an eye on the potential effect any plea might have in a school discipline proceeding.
  • Trial. In criminal trials, the prosecution goes first and must present its case against you, after which you have the right to present your defense or can rest if you believe the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. In a trial situation, you want to be represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney; it's not the time to try to defend yourself.
  • Sentencing. This happens if you're found guilty, but generally, after the trial has ended. The prosecutor and your attorney will be able to submit reports and arguments to the judge that provide information the judge will use to sentence you.
  • Appeal. If you're convicted at a trial, you have the right to an appeal. One of the experienced attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can review your case with you to determine whether there are appealable issues, and if so, can draft, file, and argue it on your behalf.

As you probably know, if you're convicted of a crime, your school may be able to discipline you, even if the crime didn't take place on campus or involve another student, faculty member, or staff member. The results of a disciplinary hearing can be severe – a sort of second punishment for the actions that resulted in your conviction. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands these complicated issues, and our attorneys are ready to protect your rights in court and in school disciplinary proceedings.

Sussex County School Disciplinary Procedures

Schools all over New Jersey and the United States have codes of conduct or honor codes that explain what the school expects of its students. In Sussex County, for example, the Sussex County Community College has a “Student Code of Conduct and Due Process” page on its website that provides this information. The school, as do most other schools, “reserves the right to take disciplinary action in any circumstances where it reasonably believes it necessary for the best interest of the College Community.” This gives the school a significant amount of discretion to discipline students for both on-campus and off-campus conduct.

While each school will have a slightly different disciplinary procedure, common aspects of many school disciplinary policies include:

  • Report of Misconduct and Investigation. A complaint or other report will be filed against the student, and the school will typically conduct an investigation to determine whether misconduct charges should be filed against the student.
  • Charges and Pre-Hearing Conference. The student may be charged and, depending on the severity of the potential punishment, may either meet with school officials or have their case scheduled for a hearing. In many cases, discussions with school officials can result in the charges being resolved by agreement; it can be particularly helpful at this stage to be represented by an attorney from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense team who has experience both with criminal defense and student discipline defense.
  • Hearing. Schools will have one or more types of hearing processes that can be used in student misconduct cases that don't settle. Sussex County Community College, for example, has both a “Dean's Judicial” proceeding and a “Campus Standards Judicial” proceeding (though in the Dean's Judicial proceeding, the student is not entitled to an attorney). Hearing procedures vary but typically include consideration of evidence and witnesses against and in favor of the student, arguments on both sides and a decision issued by the hearing officer or panel.
  • Ruling. Campus disciplinary policies will often specify how a ruling is to be made; typically, it's in writing, and certain details may need to be provided to support the decision that's being made.
  • Appeal. Depending on the school, the student may have opportunities to appeal disciplinary rulings. Some schools permit appeals to be made in person. Others, like Sussex County Community College, do not.

As compared to criminal proceedings, school disciplinary procedures are generally less formal and require less proof before the student is found to have committed misconduct. With the playing field tilted against you in a school disciplinary proceeding, it makes it even more important that you have help from an experienced attorney who understands school disciplinary procedures as well as criminal defense.

Premier Sussex County, NJ School, and Criminal Defense Attorney

The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you if you're a student who has been charged with an on-campus or off-campus crime. Our experienced attorneys understand how difficult it is to face the prospect of criminal prosecution and discipline at your college or university.

We can take much of the burden and stress off of you and will use our experience and understanding of New Jersey criminal law, court procedure, school disciplinary policies, and school disciplinary procedures to protect your rights both in your criminal case and in any disciplinary proceeding that your school may bring. We have helped students all across New Jersey and the United States who found themselves in your shoes. You have a right to a strong defense in both types of situations, and we are here to provide it.

Call the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team today at 888.535.3686 or schedule a confidential consultation with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys to learn more about how we can help you defend your rights in court and at school. Your future depends on it!

​​​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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