New Jersey College Student Defense: Harassment

Getting into college is a big deal for students. It's their first taste of freedom and responsibility. While most students spend their college careers trying to make lasting relationships, worrying about their post-college experience, and passing their classes, many find themselves worrying about disciplinary actions and criminal court dates.

At the beginning of each year, students are given a copy of their school's student handbook. The handbook outlines the policies and procedures the administration expects the students to follow. If a student is accused of violating one of these rules, the administration may not only penalize them, but depending on the conduct, they might also share it with local law enforcement.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understand how to navigate both on- and off-campus proceedings. Presenting a strong defense is key to mitigating any negative consequences and punishments you might experience. Call the Lento Law Firm today.

Crime Detection on New Jersey Campuses

The safety and well-being of faculty, staff, and students are incredibly important to colleges and universities. To ensure their safety, they employ several different methods, including:

  • Blue light emergency phones
  • Security cameras
  • Campus patrols by security or university police
  • Late-night shuttles
  • On-campus walking escorts

If a student is accused of harassing someone else on campus, there may be evidence of it on campus security footage or have been caught by another student or campus security. The university has every right to share this information, and potential evidence, with local law enforcement. Moreover, if local law enforcement is notified of the harassment prior to the university, they have every right to notify the university and request probable evidence.

Under New Jersey law, students accused of a crime or university disciplinary issue are owed a level of due process. Most colleges afford their students the right to confront their accusers, defend themselves in an unbiased hearing, and appeal the decision of the hearing committee. Additionally, local laws offer similar due process rights, including the right to a speedy and impartial trial, and the right to effective counsel. A student defense attorney will advocate for these rights.

New Jersey Harassment Crimes

The crime of harassment doesn't seem like a particularly serious charge, and most of the time it is charged as a disorderly persons offense, carrying a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in county jail.

Most of the time, the accused conduct doesn't really rise to the level of harassment, as a matter of law, so working with a competent and experienced student defense attorney-advisor will ensure your case is either dismissed or downgraded to a non-criminal offense (like a local ordinance).

But there are instances when harassment charges are brought as fourth-degree indictable offenses - a much more serious offense.

In New Jersey, harassment is defined as:

  • Communicating—
    • either anonymously, or
    • at an extremely inconvenient hour, or
    • by using offensive language, or
    • in any other way that is prone to causing annoyance or alarm;
  • Offensive touching, or threats of touching; or
  • Any other alarming conduct or repeated acts that are intended to alarm or seriously annoy another person.

So a defendant is guilty of harassment if they have the purpose of harassing another person, and they make an anonymous communication to the other person, at extremely inconvenient hours or using offensive language or communicating in any way that is likely to cause annoyance or alarm.

Defendants can also be found guilty of harassment if they strike, kick, shove, or perform some other offensive touching, or even if they just threaten to. Basically, if a person engages in behavior that is alarming, or repeats behaviors in a way that intends to seriously annoy or alarm an individual, they could be found guilty of harassment.

Now, if a person is on probation or parole for any indictable offense and they are subsequently charged with harassment, the harassment charge automatically becomes a fourth-degree offense – even if it is not related to the prior charges. This is also the case if the defendant is currently serving a prison sentence at the time the supposed harassment occurs. If the harassment charge is brought as a fourth-degree felony offense, it carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in jail.

If you are accused of harassment in New Jersey, it is incredibly important to find a student criminal defense attorney you can trust who will advocate for your rights. You do not want to spend unnecessary time in jail when there are ways to resolve the harassment charges before they become fourth-degree felony offenses. Call the Lento Law Firm today.

Harassment on New Jersey College Campuses

Colleges and universities have precise ways of settling allegations of harassment. While specifics may differ, they all agree that instances of harassment should be investigated, and, if necessary, the accused student should be punished for the conduct.

At Farleigh Dickinson University, students are asked to follow the policies and procedures outlined in the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities & Conduct. Under this policy, harassment is defined as a person purposely and repeatedly engaging in acts over a period of time with the intention of annoying or alarming that person or placing them in reasonable fear for their safety.

When a student at Farleigh Dickinson University is found responsible for harassing someone else, they will most likely be punished. Punishments include:

  • Disciplinary reprimand
  • Campus standards probation
  • Fines
  • Community restitution
  • Counseling assessment or support
  • Campus or social restrictions
  • University suspension
  • University dismissal
  • Degree withholding or revocation

False Reports of Harassment on New Jersey College Campuses

As explained above, the safety and well-being of students, faculty, and staff are of the utmost importance to colleges across America. Because of this, if a student is falsely accused of harassment, the university will not only drop the charges against them but then move to bring false reporting charges against the reporting student, faculty, or staff. For example, at Montclair State University, students are instructed to always be honest. So, if they give the university false information about a student harassing someone, they may be referred to a disciplinary hearing themselves.

Additionally, if local law enforcement has begun its own investigation into an accusation of harassment and they discover it has been made falsely, they have every right to charge the false reporter with a criminal offense. In New Jersey, a person is guilty of false incrimination if they intentionally gave false information, or caused someone else to give false information, to law enforcement with the hope of connecting another person to a crime. False incrimination tends to be a third-degree crime, unless the false information reported made it sound like the person committed a first- or second-degree crime – then it would be upgraded to a second-degree offense.

Further, a student in New Jersey can be accused of fictitious reporting if they reported, or caused someone else to report, to law enforcement conduct they know did not happen, or if they pretend to give, or pretend to have caused someone else to give, law enforcement information about some sort of conduct when they know they don't have any information about it. Fictitious reporting is usually a fourth-degree crime.

Defending New Jersey Harassment Charges

When you are accused of a harassment charge in New Jersey, having an attorney in your corner from the moment you learn of the charges could mean the difference between the maximum sentence being imposed and having your charges dropped. The prosecution must prove the student committed the elements of harassment beyond a reasonable doubt.

To prove a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution carries the burden of showing the court that there is no other reasonable explanation for the evidence presented other than the one they are offering. So, your defense team just needs to be able to find the gaps in that argument to pose other explanations for the evidence. If the court sees there are other reasonable explanations for the evidence, they are more likely to find the student not guilty.

New Jersey Campus Harassment Disciplinary Procedures

Colleges across the state of New Jersey have specific regulations they follow for resolving harassment allegations on campus. For instance, at Pillar University, if a student is accused of misconduct, they will be notified by the Student Life Administrator (SLA). The SLA will review the issue and determine an appropriate sanction. In many cases, though, a Disciplinary Review Committee (DRC) will be formed.

The DRC will meet and allow the student to hear the accusations and evidence against them, as well as provide them with an opportunity to defend themselves. Once all evidence and witness testimony has been heard and cross-examined, the DRC will convene to determine if the student is responsible for committing harassment. They will also decide what type of formal discipline to impose. Examples of formal discipline at Pillar University include:

  • Official warnings – called an incident notice
  • Fines – ranging from $5 - $50
  • Disciplinary warning
  • Disciplinary probation
  • Suspension
  • Disciplinary withdrawal
  • Disciplinary denial of re-enrollment after one semester of separation from the university because of disciplinary reasons
  • Disciplinary dismissal

Students have the option to appeal the DRC's decision, but it must be made within 48 hours of receiving the discipline. The student will be given the opportunity to defend themselves to the appellate authority. Whatever the appellate authority determines, it is final and cannot be appealed further.

Furthermore, at Rutgers University, students are specifically told to refrain from any type of intimidation, including harassment and bullying. The actual rule is similar to the state law, including:

  • Communicating with another person in any manner that is liable to cause alarm, including through electronic or social media platforms.
  • Threatening to, or actually striking, kicking, shoving, or offensively touching another person or animal.
  • Threatening to expose or publish a person's personal information or media either electronically or through other communication avenues.
  • Engaging in any other alarming behavior or continuously acting with the intention of seriously alarming another person.

To fall under harassment at Rutgers University, the behavior must have been so severe, pervasive, or persistent that it greatly disrupted or interfered with the school's ability to operate accordingly or with the rights of the student to partake in or benefit from their educational program.

If the university determines that there is enough evidence to support a claim that the accused student harassed someone else, the Office of Student Conduct/Community Standards will initiate a disciplinary action. During the disciplinary process, the accused student and the university representative (or person making the claim) will have a chance to present evidence and witnesses, as well as cross-exam the other side's evidence and witnesses, in an effort to prove their argument.

Once both sides have been heard, the committee will review the information presented and determine whether the student is, in fact, responsible for harassment. If they do find that the student is responsible, the student could be subject to several different sanctions. For instance, they could just be reprimanded or put on probation, or they could be suspended or expelled. The type of sanction they receive will match the severity of the harassment.

Additionally, Rutgers University also provides its students with the option to appeal the committee's decision. The exact directions will be attached to the notice of their initial decision.

How a Student Defense Attorney Can Help

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has spent his career helping students accused of both disciplinary actions and criminal offenses. As such, he has unparalleled experience navigating the complexities of these cases. If you or someone you love has been accused of harassment, whether on campus or in a criminal proceeding, Attorney Lento and his Criminal Defense Team can help. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation today or visit us online.

​​​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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