College Student Defense - Essex County

College is a trying time for young adults. On the road toward a four-year degree, students encounter new academic challenges and changes in social habits, beginning to live more independently from their parents. Unfortunately, whether you're a student at Essex County College or are a native of the area and attend elsewhere, the chances of being accused of or charged with a crime are high and increase your risk of failing to obtain the diploma you need to enter the working world.

Colleges and universities have explicit policies to ensure they are identifying, investigating, and disciplining students they believe to be committing 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. When criminal allegations arise, students can be punished both by the school and law enforcement.

Hiring legal professionals may sound like an extreme step, but it's the only way to ensure fairness in the disciplinary process and mitigate unnecessary punishments. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has years of experience helping students nationwide defend themselves against criminal accusations. To protect your academic goals and career prospects, call us now at 888-535-3686 or schedule a consultation online through our confidential form, and we will reach out to you.

Difference Between College Campus Security Personnel

Colleges and universities take safety and order on campus seriously. Frequently, schools have multiple sets of authorities:

  • Municipal law enforcement officers
  • Campus police officers
  • Non-sworn peacekeepers

Municipal law enforcement and campus police have similar training and the power to enforce local and state laws and campus-specific policies. Campus security departments also employ non-officer staff that are not sworn for full police authority and are used for patrolling and peacekeeping initiatives. There are significant differences in how on-campus police and other safety officers are trained to operate, along with a slightly different approach to enforcement.

Campus police operate in a much more limited jurisdiction than other law enforcement, and the specifics vary between campuses and depend on agreements with local law enforcement agencies. Some campuses give their departments full police powers in the county where their university is located, which means that campus police officers can respond to calls off campus. For other schools, jurisdiction is limited to the campus and immediate areas like community spaces. Nevertheless, campus police departments have mutual agreements with local law enforcement and will work together to respond to calls and make decisions on jurisdictional issues.

Criminal Charges and School Discipline in Essex County

Facing criminal charges in Essex County for an on-campus crime can go one of two ways, depending on who discovers the crime. If local law enforcement is the first to acknowledge it, they can either inform the school of their decision to investigate or withhold the information and leave the matter to the courts.

However, if the school is the first to discover the alleged criminal conduct, they have the discretion to tell law enforcement or keep the matter within the school's own disciplinary system. Should they opt to inform the police, an arrest will occur if there is probable cause to do so. Otherwise, they will leave the matter for the school to resolve internally. Yet, schools may also wait for criminal proceedings to end before passing their own judgment, meaning students could face punishment twice.

On-Campus and Off-Campus Crimes

The differences between on-campus and off-campus crimes may sound self-explanatory, but there is an interconnected web of jurisdiction. On-campus crimes typically occur within the confines of a college or university's property or a location hosting a school-sponsored event. Therefore, campus police have the primary role of enforcing rules in areas such as:

  • Academic buildings
  • Dormitories
  • Public event centers
  • Recreational facilities
  • School-owned or rented vehicles

In contrast, off-campus crimes occur outside the university's jurisdiction, encompassing areas where students might reside, socialize, or work in the surrounding community. These neighborhoods, while potentially close to the campus, fall under the authority of local law enforcement agencies rather than campus security.

Despite the differences in location, the same types of crimes we see committed off-campus occur on campus, too. The most common crimes on Essex County school campuses include the following:

  • Alcohol and Tobacco Use: In New Jersey, the legal age to buy, use, or possess tobacco products (including electronic nicotine devices) and alcohol is 21. Additionally, it's unlawful to distribute such products to those under 21.
  • Criminal Mischief: While generally referred to in instances of vandalism, the term refers to any offense related to interfering with or destroying property.
  • Disorderly Conduct: Reserved as a "catch-all" term for various behaviors that disrupt the public or put the community at risk, it typically includes fighting, noise complaints, excessive gatherings, and parties, among others.
  • Drug-Related Offenses: Although illegal controlled substances can quickly lead to a criminal offense, it will depend heavily on the classification, quantity, and intent to distribute or sell drugs. Moreover, while New Jersey's marijuana laws are evolving into legality, students can still get in trouble with school authorities for use.
  • Harassment and Hazing: New Jersey maintains a broad definition of criminal harassment, which typically involves deliberately alarming or disturbing another individual. Hazing includes embarrassing, harassing, or shaming individuals for the purpose of joining a group, like a fraternity or sorority.
  • Sexual Crimes: Offenses can range from indecent exposure to rape and aggravated sexual assault, and the consequences usually include being required to be a registered sex offender.

Criminal Procedures in Essex County

While New Jersey's criminal procedures may vary slightly by locality, they follow a general statewide format. One of the most significant parts of how authorities will approach charges is the severity of the act. New Jersey has a ranking system for crimes, with corresponding maximum and minimum punishments allowed under the law, from first-degree crimes to disorderly offenses.

Depending on the crime alleged, the first matters are arraignment and establishing bail. The pre-trial stage may include other steps, such as discovery, plea bargains, or other motions to aid in the case. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows that each student's criminal matters are unique and complex. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution, and our attorneys understand what it takes to prove the case against you and, therefore, defend you against the charges.

If convicted, students will attend a sentencing hearing for the judge to determine their punishment, ranging from fines and hours of community service to incarceration. Individuals usually have the right to appeal, but they must be handled delicately—even more of a reason to call the Lento Law Firm for guidance and representation for students alleged to have committed crimes.

Essex County School Disciplinary Procedures

For colleges and universities, the grievance process is more varied. Every school is unique, but students can find the exact disciplinary procedure through the institution's code of conduct or student handbook. Nevertheless, schools typically follow the same pattern of disciplinary procedures.

The first step is an initial complaint from a student, teacher, or staff member, but anyone in the community can lodge a complaint. Once the school's disciplinary body substantiates the complaint, a hearing officer or panel is appointed to launch an investigation. The school's investigator has a wide scope to collect evidence, such as the following:

  • School documents
  • Emails
  • Text messages
  • Computer hard drives
  • Photos and videos
  • Witness testimony

Typically, the school schedules a meeting with the student to discuss the case, including the investigator's uncovered evidence. The disciplinary body will likely offer informal methods of settlement for less severe sanctions. However, without a full, formal hearing, you can easily fall into admitting guilt as a tradeoff to stay in school. No matter the situation, it isn't in a student's best interests and could lead to long-term implications. A formal disciplinary hearing is a student's opportunity to present their case. While it lacks the same formalities as an Essex County criminal court hearing, it must still be taken seriously, as the rights you have in court don't necessarily translate into the school disciplinary process.

Students may present evidence and cross-examine witnesses but cannot, in most cases, obtain legal representation. However, the Lento Law Firm can act in an advisory capacity to create a defense strategy for you. Following the hearing, the officer or panel will reach a conclusion and issue their decision in a formal notice sent to the student, including the sanctions and a short explanation for their reasoning.

Unless a school's punishment is minor, such as a verbal warning or written reprimand, students normally always have a right to appeal. They will, however, require grounds to do so, such as:

  • Procedural errors during the hearing
  • Bias from the hearing officer or panel
  • Excessive sanctions

There is a caveat to the typical disciplinary process. If the alleged criminal offense is also a Title IX infraction, the investigative, hearing, and appeals process rely on federal standards. Some common title IX offenses are as follows:

  • Bullying
  • Coercion
  • Dating/Domestic violence
  • Hazing
  • Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Sexual assault, discrimination, and exploitation

The school's Title IX Coordinator manages all allegations listed above. In the fast-paced process, colleges and universities are at the whim of the Department of Justice's Office of Civil Rights to handle complaints swiftly and harshly. Unfortunately, even false allegations can lead to suspension or expulsion from the school, irrespective of how Essex County law enforcement handles it.

Consequences of Criminal Convictions

The consequences of criminal charges and college discipline are undoubtedly different. But don't make the mistake of assuming that criminal charges always bear greater consequences than school discipline. For instance, in the event a student is alleged to have committed an act of sexual harassment, Essex County may exonerate the individual if the court fails to substantiate the charges. However, the school could look to initiate Title IX proceedings, meaning the student could potentially face suspension or expulsion since the burden of proof is lower in school-related disciplinary hearings.

Criminal charges can result in heavy fines and periods of incarceration. The collateral damage could affect the opportunity to gain employment at a top-tier company, obtain a professional license, and become a burden for some home loans. Sanctions handed down by college and university disciplinary panels don't include the risk of jail time but can certainly affect future educational opportunities, as well as the following:

  • Cause students to pay back all student loans immediately.
  • Halt academic progress, delaying graduation dates.
  • Make transferring to another school almost impossible.
  • Become a barrier to entry in many careers.

One mistake shouldn't cause you to suffer for years to come. While criminal allegations are tough to defend yourself against, students have a valuable resource in the Lento Law Firm.

How the Lento Law Firm Can Help Essex County College Students

Don't underestimate the costs and risks of criminal charges or school discipline. No matter the situation, your future is at risk from the years it will take to rehabilitate your character. In student disciplinary processes, there is no guaranteed presumption of innocence, and the school has a low burden of proof to work with. With the New Jersey criminal justice system, judges won't hesitate to levy maximum punishments, which can lead to jail time,

To pursue your best means of defense, hire one of our experienced attorneys at the first sign of trouble. While retaining legal assistance may seem like a big step, here's how the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team can help:

  • Evaluate criminal allegations and advise you on the best strategy for defense.
  • Gather evidence and witnesses to support your defense before the school's disciplinary panel and Essex County court.
  • Negotiate with the school's Office of General Counsel or the county's district attorney.
  • Take steps to litigate matters further or appeal, if necessary.

Don't take unnecessary risks with your future. If you are an Essex County college or university student facing criminal charges—or the dedicated parent of one—the Lento Law Firm Team will work to protect your rights and help you get the most favorable resolution possible. Contact us at 888-535-3686 or use our confidential online consultation form, and we will reach out to you.

​​​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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