Campus Sexual Harassment in New Jersey
It is a nightmare scenario for any student: You've been accepted into a university and are making progress toward graduation but are then accused of sexual misconduct. In the worst-case scenario, you face not only possible dismissal from your school but also criminal charges that may lead to serious legal repercussions.
Sexual harassment and other sexual offenses rarely involve cut-and-dry circumstances. The campus environment places students in compromising situations where alcohol, drugs, and unfamiliarity with new people can lead to sexual encounters that, in the moment or after the fact, one or both parties question. Too often, students who did nothing criminal end up facing criminal charges as well as potential expulsion.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is well-suited to represent you, as the Lento Law Firm Student and Criminal Defense Teams focus on students' rights issues and criminal defense. We are familiar with both local laws and policies of universities throughout New Jersey.
Let the Lento Law Firm team protect you against potential legal sanctions and inappropriate punitive action by your university in New Jersey.
College Students May Face a Higher-Than-Average Risk of Sex Crime Allegations
Students attending public and private universities in New Jersey face excessive scrutiny. Not only are you expected to abide by the laws of state and local lawmakers, but you must also comply with university policies. Making matters even more perilous, you may face near-constant monitoring and rule enforcement by:
- State police
- County police
- Local law enforcement officers
- Campus administrators
- Title IX coordinators
- Resident advisors (RAs)
- Campus police
- Other students
The Rutgers University Police Department, for example, "operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year", with the mandate of investigating potential crimes and disturbances on the campus. There are many ways that an allegation of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct can spiral into a criminal case, at which point you're at a critical juncture.
Universities in New Jersey and elsewhere pose a sort of dual reality. On the one hand, there are myriad law enforcement bodies and administrators dedicated to enforcing rules and punishing accused offenders. On the other, university students regularly drink and engage in sexual encounters with little or no interference from university or law enforcement officials. These parallel realities expose students accused of sexual misconduct to great risk, as accusations of misconduct are what generally catch police officers' and university officials' attention.
Sexual Crimes on New Jersey College Campuses
University students are subject to the same laws as other adults in New Jersey. Even minors who attend university in The Garden State may face criminal charges for alleged sexual harassment or other alleged criminal behavior.
There are several laws that could prove relevant to a student accused of sexual harassment or another sexual crime, including:
- New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice 2C § 33-4, Harassment: This statute deems someone guilty of harassment if they "Engage(s) in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person."
- New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice 2C § 14-2, Sexual Assault: This statute explains that sexual assault involves the penetration of someone who cannot or did not consent.
- New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice 2C § 14-3, Criminal Sexual Contact: Criminal sexual contact involves the touching of another person's genitals, either above or under clothing, without the person's consent.
- New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice 2C § 14-4, Lewdness: Someone may face charges of lewdness for "any flagrantly lewd and offensive act which he knows or reasonably expects is likely to be observed by other nonconsenting persons who would be affronted or alarmed." This includes but is not limited to exposing one's genitals.
Harassment generally qualifies as a petty disorderly persons offense with a potential penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Other charges, including sexual assault, may result in felony charges. If you are convicted of a felony in New Jersey, you may face:
- Jail time
- Substantial fines
- A lasting felony conviction on your criminal record
- Mandatory registration as a sex offender
The New Jersey Office of Attorney General explains that those convicted of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, and certain other sexual offenses may have to register as sex offenders under certain conditions. This is perhaps the greatest potential consequence of being convicted of a sexual crime while attending a New Jersey university.
The Non-Legal Consequences of a Sexual Harassment Conviction in New Jersey
Whether you face a charge of harassment or another offense linked to alleged sexual misconduct, the consequences of a conviction never stop at the judge's ruling. The secondary ramifications of a conviction can be just as punitive as the legal consequences and may include:
- Lasting reputational harm: Sexual offenses can have a particular type of stigma, especially if you face the possible consequence of registering as a sexual offender. A conviction will make you a guilty person in many peoples' eyes, and this perception can have significant and wide-ranging consequences.
- Limited employment options (and earning power): Prospective employers are one of the parties that may take your conviction seriously. You may lose jobs, promotions, and even careers that you may have obtained if not for a conviction.
- Difficulty pursuing further education: If you are convicted of a sexual crime (or even just dismissed by your current university), you may have difficulty enrolling in another university. Being unable to complete your education could have direct professional and personal repercussions.
- Interpersonal problems: Sexual criminal convictions in New Jersey are typically part of the public record. This public account of a conviction may affect your dating life and other interpersonal relationships.
- Mental and physical health problems: The cumulative stress resulting from a sexual conviction in New Jersey could take a toll on your physical, psychological, and emotional health. A dismissal from your university could be similarly stressful.
If you ask anyone who has been convicted of a serious crime in New Jersey, you'll find that these consequences are not far-fetched. The Criminal and Student Defense Teams at the Lento Law Firm want to protect you from these and other adverse outcomes that can result from an allegation of sexual wrongdoing.
Defending Students in New Jersey from Criminal Charges of a Sexual Nature
You have a right to due process, both at the legal and university levels. Having interacted regularly with the criminal justice system, though, our team knows that you must exercise your rights, and we can help you do that.
The Lento Law Firm will provide several valuable services as your legal defense team, including:
- Guiding you through the arraignment process, explaining how to secure your release in advance of plea negotiations or trial
- Investigating the circumstances of your case, gathering testimony and evidence that suggests the criminal allegations against you are false
- Gathering any evidence of misconduct by law enforcement officers, mandatory reporters, representatives of the prosecution, or any other official who has facilitated the charges levied against you
- Overseeing the discovery phase of your case, at which time we will demand to see evidence in the prosecution's possession
- Developing a legal strategy specific to your circumstances—a plea bargain is an acceptable outcome for some defendants, while others may settle for nothing short of a dismissal or not-guilty verdict
- Negotiating a plea bargain on your behalf, circumstances permitting
- Completing all pre-trial motions and procedures if your case proceeds to the trial stage
- At trial, presenting evidence, questioning witnesses, rebutting the prosecution's case, and making opening and closing arguments
- Completing any necessary appeal on your behalf
These are essential steps that, for the most part, are unavoidable during the criminal justice process in New Jersey. Therefore, you may need to navigate each of these processes yourself if you choose not to hire an attorney from the Lento Law Firm.
There is risk at every turn of a criminal case. Prosecutors are often savvy, and you deserve an experienced legal team on your side. Let our firm be your advocate during this pivotal time in your life.
University Policies Regarding Sexual Harassment and Other Sexual Offenses
Addressing your criminal charges will be our first priority, as legal penalties have the greatest potential to harm you. However, we will take your defense against potential university sanctions just as seriously as your criminal defense.
Even if we spare you from legal penalties, your school may attempt to suspend, dismiss, or punish you in other ways. Every university in New Jersey has a policy prohibiting sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment. Princeton University states explicitly that it "does not tolerate sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment." Most universities will also explicitly prohibit:
- Sexual assault
- Unwanted touching
- Distribution of sexual images
- Other acts generally considered to be sexual misconduct
Unfortunately, students accused of sexual misconduct in a university setting are too often deprived of due process. In extreme cases, adjudication of alleged sexual harassment has a guilty-until-proven-innocent feel, and it is vital that you have a capable legal representative protecting your rights.
Disciplinary Procedures for New Jersey Students Accused of Sexual Harassment
Colleges and universities that receive federal funding—most schools in New Jersey—funnel allegations of sexual misconduct through their Title IX offices. Specifically, a Title IX Coordinator oversees the adjudication of alleged sexual harassment and other sexual offenses.
At Montclair State University, for example, several individuals, including the Title IX Coordinator and Dean of Students, ensure that the school abides by Title IX regulations. Those accused of sexual harassment or similar offenses at a New Jersey University can expect:
- An investigation: The university will aim to get accounts from all parties involved in the case, including the accuser, accused, and witnesses.
- A determination of whether to proceed with the complaint: A Title IX Coordinator generally determines if there are sufficient grounds to adjudicate the allegation of sexual harassment.
- A hearing: This stage allows the accused (you) to defend themselves by presenting their side of the story, any exculpatory evidence, and witness accounts that support their defense. You may be able to have attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Student Defense Team accompany you during the hearing, and he will lead your case if permitted to do so.
- A ruling: Those who will rule on your case will either find you responsible for the allegation or not responsible, which is tantamount to guilty or not-guilty verdicts.
- An appeal opportunity: If you disagree with the ruling or sanctions levied against you, our team can file an appeal on your behalf.
While each university in New Jersey follows its own unique procedures, most will follow the general blueprint in cases that involve alleged sexual wrongdoing.
Defending Students in New Jersey from University-Issued Discipline for Alleged Sexual Misconduct
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has made it a mission to defend students from allegations of wrongdoing. Too often, universities fail to ensure due process, and the Lento Law Firm team makes certain that our clients receive a fair shake.
At the university disciplinary level, the team will assist you by:
- Preparing you for every step in the disciplinary process and accompanying you to meetings whenever possible
- Seeking evidence and witness accounts that support your defense
- Handling the appeals process, if it proves necessary
- Negotiating directly with your school's Office of General Counsel (OGC), which is its attorneys
The Office of General Counsel may offer a resolution independent of disciplinary proceedings. Our experience negotiating with university lawyers is one of many reasons to trust the Lento Law Firm with your case.
Retain an Experienced Student Defense Lawyer to Lead Both Criminal and University Proceedings in New Jersey
There is no time to delay once you have been accused of sexual harassment or another sexual offense. We will prepare urgently for both criminal proceedings and the university disciplinary process, aiming to succeed in both arenas.