Fire and Safety Issues on New Jersey Campuses
Students attending colleges and universities in New Jersey are expected to follow both university rules and legal statutes to a “T.” This is a condition of graduating with an unblemished record. However, the density and complexity of rules and laws related to safety and fire make compliance difficult.
When a student is accused of a safety and fire violation, they should expect a disproportionate response from their school and law enforcement. A seemingly minor violation may be framed as a matter of “community safety.” Do not expect the benefit of the doubt—expect the worst, as this will ensure that you mount a strong defense of your name and reputation.
Whether you face criminal charges, university discipline, or both, it's in your interest to hire experienced attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team. The firm handles both criminal defense and student defense, suiting them perfectly to handle your fire and safety issue in New Jersey.
The Watchful Eye of College Campus Authorities Means High Risk for New Jersey College Students
When you are attending any institution of higher education in New Jersey, you may be subject to monitoring by multiple authorities. Federal and state law enforcement, university law enforcement, university administrators, and resident assistants (RAs) may all surveil and sanction you for safety and fire violations.
While university life presents a veneer of freedom and adulthood, those living on campus have little expectation of privacy. Inspections may occur at virtually any time. Princeton University Housing & Real Estate Services, for example, notes that “Dormitory and annex rooms are inspected periodically and at random times to ensure compliance with University regulations.”
Despite universities' broad powers to monitor students and invade privacy, you have rights. You must exercise those rights when accused of a safety and fire violation that threatens your enrollment, graduation, and reputation. Attorney Joseph D. Lento will ensure you receive due process in both criminal and university disciplinary proceedings.
Potential Safety and Fire Offenses on New Jersey College Campuses
Safety and fire policies for New Jersey universities may be denser than the tax code. While students are expected to know and honor these codes, few students have the time or capacity to read these policies front-to-back—let alone memorize them.
Surely a university's fire and safety policies fall in line with common sense, right? The New Jersey criminal code must also be similarly reasonable.
Not necessarily. Our team has seen students face serious consequences for a variety of fire and safety issues, including:
Interference with Fire Inspections
A university may conduct fire inspections in conjunction with local fire departments or other authorities. If you face allegations of obstructing an inspection, you may face civil or criminal penalties in addition to university sanctions.
Tampering with Safety Equipment
Tampering with safety equipment could lead to a charge of criminal mischief. N.J.S.A. 2C :17-3 makes it illegal to knowingly damage property using fire, explosives, “or other dangerous means.” The problem is “destruction of property” is a broad term that may cover unintentional or minor damage, exposing New Jersey students to overzealous prosecution.
N.J.S.A. 20:17.1 covers “arson and related offenses,” including:
- Starting a fire
- Starting an explosion
- Failing to control or report a dangerous fire
- Giving or accepting money to start a fire or explosion
Unintentional fires happen. When they do, a New Jersey student may face unjust allegations of arson. Such allegations can lead to serious criminal charges and sanctions from a university.
New Jersey criminal statutes are extensive. If you are accused of obstructing fire officials, damaging safety equipment, starting a fire, or putting others in danger in any way, expect a response from authorities.
Defending New Jersey College Students from Safety and Fire Offenses
Formal allegations of criminal penalties or university sanctions are not an indication of guilt. These are merely notices that you're accused of wrongdoing. Once you receive these notices, hiring a capable legal team—the Lento Law Firm—is next.
Attorney Joseph Lento and his Criminal Defense Team will first address any criminal charges filed against you. Our legal team will:
- Represent you during pre-arraignment proceedings, where you will learn about the charges filed against you
- Ensure that the court conducts your arraignment promptly, as there are limits on how long the courts can wait to complete your arraignment
- Accompany you to arraignment proceedings, arguing for favorable bond terms and helping you enter a plea
- Explain your pre-trial intervention (PTI) options, which may be a pathway to dismissal of charges
- Complete any status conference that occurs, as these are meetings during which we may negotiate a resolution to your case
The nature of your charges will dictate the prosecution's approach. Your charges will also affect how we defend you. For example, a student accused baselessly of arson may not receive an acceptable plea offer, and may choose to fight their case at trial. Someone accused of less serious charges may get an acceptable PTI deal. The Lento Law Firm is prepared for any route your case takes.
From minor property crimes to serious allegations that come with potential prison time, our firm has represented students facing a wide range of criminal penalties. Our experience has prepared us to resolve your safety and fire-related criminal case in New Jersey.
New Jersey University Policies About Safety and Fire Offenses
Once we have resolved criminal charges, we'll turn our focus to any university sanctions that you face. We may need to manage elements of these two matters simultaneously, and our legal team is prepared to do so.
First, we'll familiarize ourselves with the university policies you are accused of violating. Each university in New Jersey publishes policies regarding fire and safety, and your school may cite these policies after accusing you of wrongdoing.
University policies also set many traps that students unwittingly step into. Princeton University policies issue several mandates specific to safety equipment. Violations include:
- Placing large furniture in front of a carbon monoxide detector
- Damaging, unplugging, or losing a carbon monoxide detector
- Cooking or microwaving food in dormitories
- Affixing items (signs, posters) to the dorm entry and exit doors
- Placing any items in the way of the dorm entry and exit doors
- Violating a 24-inch clearance around smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and sprinkler systems
- Attaching anything to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors or sprinkler systems
- Burning candles, flammable liquids, or incense in dormitories
- Possessing flammable items (lighter fluid, charcoal, propane, kerosene, etc.) in a dormitory
- Possessing any kind of grill
This is a limited sample of the many fire and safety rules that students at Princeton University face. You will find that most other universities in New Jersey have similarly detailed and restrictive fire and safety policies.
Princeton's policies are littered with “violations” that can easily result from accidents and misunderstandings. For example, a new student who brings a personal lighter (such as a Zippo) to campus might also bring a small container of lighter fluid. That student may face serious sanctions for possessing both items.
Unfortunately, students cannot expect university officials to grant them the benefit of the doubt, and potential sanctions for fire and safety violations are steep.
How Universities May Handle Alleged Safety and Fire Offenses
Each university in New Jersey may have its own policies for handling alleged safety and fire violations. The specific procedures you face may depend on:
- Your university and its policies
- The specific allegations you face
- The severity your school assigns to the allegations
At Rutgers University, Fire Inspectors of Emergency Services enforce fire safety regulations. If these inspectors discover a violation of policies (or allegations arise in another manner), the student accused of wrongdoing faces:
- A formal notice of violation
- A meeting with Residence Life “for disciplinary action”
- Mandatory removal or discontinuation of hazardous actions or items
- Completing a “Fire Code Violation Follow-Up Form” and returning the form to Residence Life within a specific period of time
- Providing proof that they have corrected the alleged violation
The tenor of Rutgers' fire and safety policies assumes guilt. Based on the policy's language, the accusation of a safety violation is treated as fact. The only question is which roommate is responsible for the policy violation.
The policy notes that if it is unclear which resident is responsible for a violation, all residents will face disciplinary action. The responsibility then falls on the accused student to:
- Submit a written explanation to the Residence Life office explaining why they are not responsible for the violation
- Submit the explanation within 10 days of receiving the notice of violation
These policies are fraught with potential rights violations. What if a student is off campus at the time of a violation or is otherwise unaware of a violation? Are they assumed responsible if they fail to issue a rebuttal within ten days of the violation being issued?
It is clear why students retain the Lento Law Firm when facing potential sanctions for safety and fire violations. Universities often stack the deck against the student, demanding fines and issuing sanctions in a swift, heavy-handed manner.
Potential Sanctions for Violating Your University's Fire and Safety Policies
Even if you did not violate your university's policies, the school may deem you responsible and proceed with sanctions. Ramapo College of New Jersey publishes detailed sanctioning guidelines for students found responsible for fire safety violations, including:
- Official warnings
- Fines ranging up to $500
- Mandatory completion of fire safety education courses
- Mandatory community restitution (i.e., community service)
- Behavioral probation
- Suspension of residence privileges (i.e., expulsion from school housing)
- Mandatory relocation to housing that does not have a kitchen
- Suspension from the university
Dismissal may also be a possibility for serious allegations, including alleged arson. Our firm often sees the domino effect that even moderate sanctions can cause. In a hyper-competitive collegiate and professional climate, the slightest hint of wrongdoing on your record may:
- Affect your entry to graduate programs
- Diminish your reputation among prospective employers
- Affect your career opportunities and earning power
- Diminish your quality of life
- Cause emotional and psychological issues
Serious sanctions, including suspension and dismissal, can have an even more devastating effect on your education, career, and quality of life. We advise that anyone accused of a fire and safety violation hire our firm to defend them.
How the Lento Law Firm Will Defend You During University Disciplinary Proceedings
The Lento Law Firm Student Defense Team has successfully guided students in New Jersey through high-stakes disciplinary proceedings. While each school follows different protocols for alleged fire and safety violations, our team can:
- Compare university policies against the offense(s) you are accused of, determining if disciplinary procedures are appropriate
- Address any disciplinary procedures that lie directly ahead, preparing you to protect your rights
- Review any proposed resolutions that administrations have extended to you
- Secure evidence that suggests you are not responsible for the alleged violation
- Accompany you to interviews (university policies permitting)
- Represent you during any disciplinary hearings, at which time we may present evidence, question witnesses, and present an oral case in your defense
- Lead any necessary appeal procedures
The Lento Law Firm is willing and able to negotiate with your university's lawyers. Typically referred to as an Office of General Counsel (OGC), these attorneys often have broad power to resolve student issues. Our firm will negotiate in good faith, seeking a favorable resolution and explaining that, if necessary, we will take legal action against the university.
We want to clear your name without creating unnecessary rifts with your school. This mentality will guide our approach to your case.
Hire the Lento Law Firm Team to Defend Against Criminal Charges and University Sanctions
Do not underestimate the potential of an alleged safety and fire violation to cause you harm. You need to resolve criminal and university discipline proceedings as quickly as possible, and the Lento Law Firm Team will provide capable, comprehensive legal services.