New Jersey's colleges and universities have codes of conduct students must follow. These codes typically cover all aspects of a student's college life, including academic dishonesty and other student ethical matters, along with how students are supposed to behave on and off campus. Colleges usually have their own sets of sanctions and disciplinary actions they can take against students who violate the codes, but students may also face criminal prosecution for committing crimes.
While students won't likely get arrested for cheating on a test, for instance, they can be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of crimes like sexual assault, destruction of property, and making threats. Since these crimes also fall under local and state law enforcement jurisdictions, students can face serious consequences off campus along with detrimental impacts on their education.
If you are a college student in New Jersey, or you have a loved one who is, and you face charges for making threats in person, you need to consult an experienced college student defense attorney right away. You need to ensure you choose an attorney who has experience in both criminal defense and defending college students since you can still face disciplinary action from your school whether or not the crime occurred on campus.
Attorney Joseph Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have many years of experience defending college students in New Jersey against a wide range of crimes and academic violations. We offer a unique blend of criminal defense experience and college student defense experience to help you address the legal and administrative issues you may face on both fronts. You can count on us to sit with you and help you understand your options and fight hard for your rights and future.
Making Threats in Person on New Jersey College Campuses
Colleges and universities in New Jersey expect their students to abide by all local, state, and federal laws, and most colleges expressly state this in their codes of conduct. Even if you are only arrested and charged with a crime, you may still receive discipline or sanctions from your school.
For example, Rutgers University states in its code of conduct that “students may be held accountable for their behavior through both the criminal system and the University conduct process.” The code prohibits students from “using or threatening to use force against a person or animal,” along with prohibiting “bullying, intimidation, and harassment.”
Similarly, Princeton University states that the university may “call upon external authorities and…file charges or claims in the courts” along with taking internal disciplinary action against a student who violates laws on campus. The code specifically mentions conduct that “inflicts or threatens to inflict personal injury or serious damage to property.”
Montclair State University also prohibits the infliction or threat of bodily harm, and “no student may threaten to use force to inflict bodily harm upon any other person.” Virtually all other colleges and universities in New Jersey have stipulations in their student codes of conduct that prohibit making threats of physical harm or property damage.
Princeton, Rutgers, and many other major universities in New Jersey have their own police departments that can enforce laws and make arrests. College police departments have the same authority as municipal and state law enforcement agencies, but their jurisdiction may be limited to the campus and surrounding areas of the college community.
New Jersey Crimes for Making Threats in Person
In New Jersey, it is a crime to threaten to harm or kill another person or make them feel in imminent danger of their life or safety. Several laws govern making threats against others, and they can range from misdemeanors or felonies depending on the nature and severity of the crime. These laws include:
Terroristic threats (N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-3) – Considered third-degree offenses in most cases, terroristic threats are where you threaten violence to terrorize someone or to cause an evacuation of a building or place of assembly, or any facility or public transportation. The crime is also a third-degree offense if you threaten to kill someone or place them in reasonable fear of death. The crime becomes second-degree if you make terroristic threats during a national, state, or county emergency.
You can face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $15,000 if convicted.
Criminal coercion (N.J.S.A. § 2C:13-5) – You can face charges for criminal coercion if you threaten someone with any of the following:
- To inflict bodily injury
- To accuse them of a criminal offense
- To expose a secret that may subject them to ridicule, professional harm, hated, or contempt
- To take or withhold an action as an official or cause an official to do so
- To bring a strike or boycott (unless in a unionized setting)
- To testify or withhold testimony related to a legal claim
- To perform an act intended to cause harm to someone's health, safety, business, or personal reputation or relationships
The crime is a fourth-degree offense unless you intended to commit a more serious crime. For a fourth-degree offense, you can face up to 18 months in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. For third-degree, you can face up to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.
You can also face charges of harassment (N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4) for threatening to strike, kick, shove, or engage in some other “offensive touching” against someone. In most cases, it is a petty disorderly persons offense, and you can receive up to six months in jail and up to $500 in fines. You may also have to attend mandatory treatment classes, along with probation.
Stalking (N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-10) is another crime that falls under the purview of making threats. The law defines stalking as repeatedly committing harassment against someone, or conveying such intended actions, through written or verbal threats to make them reasonably fear for their safety. In most cases, it is a fourth-degree offense punishable by up to 18 months in prison and up to $10,000 in fine. If you violate a restraining order in committing the crime, it elevates to a third-degree offense, and you could receive up to five years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
Why Having a Criminal Defense Attorney Is So Important
As a college student, you want an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to help mitigate the potential impact on your academic career as well as your future. A lawyer will have your rights and interests at heart and will work to help you receive an unrestricted bond and quick release from incarceration so that you may resume your academics.
Your attorney will also work diligently to help you get favorable results by examining the prosecution's evidence to expose gaps, errors, or misidentifications. Your lawyer can also request certain evidence be excluded or suppressed or that exonerating evidence be included.
Additionally, your attorney may also determine if you qualify for New Jersey's extended conditional discharge program to help you avoid incarceration, and they will always fight hard to assert your rights and create reasonable doubt in the court or jury to obtain an acquittal.
Student attorney Joseph D. Lento's Criminal Defense Team has defended many New Jersey college students accused of making threats in person and other related offenses. They have extensive criminal defense experience, along with defending college students against any disciplinary actions they may face from their schools.
School-Related Consequences and Sanctions
In most cases, New Jersey's colleges and universities impose sanctions on students found in violation of the code of conduct, and any sanctions the college imposes will be in addition to the legal penalties you will receive if convicted.
Princeton University, for example, lists the following formal sanctions the school can impose on students found in violation of its code of conduct:
- Disciplinary probation
- Withholding of degree
- Suspension with conditions
Also, any of the following consequences may accompany any of the sanctions listed above:
- Campus service (similar to community service)
- Removal from university housing
- Restricted access to university spaces, resources, and activities
- Required attendance in an educational refresher program
In cases affecting health and safety, such as making threats, the university can summarily suspend, dismiss, or bar you from the university altogether.
How Colleges Handle Code of Conduct Violations
Colleges and universities in New Jersey typically follow a disciplinary process for student code of conduct violations, and they adhere to due process and fair and reasonable procedural standards to adjudicate alleged violations equally among all students.
Regardless of the school you attend, the disciplinary process usually involves the following:
- The school receives a formal complaint about the alleged offense through its Office of Student Conduct or a similar office. Complaints can come from other students, school faculty or administration, or from private citizens.
- The school will then investigate the complaint and determine how to best handle the situation. In some cases, they can hold informal reviews for relatively minor complaints, but in many cases, the student will go before an administrative board for a formal hearing.
- If warranted, the school may then file charges against the student.
In some cases, the school may request parties to go through mediation to resolve the issue. If mediation is successful, the student may not face charges or sanctions from the school. However, if mediation is not an option or proves futile, the school will conduct a formal hearing on the matter.
College disciplinary hearings are not handled the same way as criminal or civil trials, and a college typically has a lower burden of proof to find a student guilty. Additionally, although students have the right to due process, they may not rely on certain constitutional protections granted to others in criminal trials, such as the right to free counsel.
Nevertheless, students may have a "personal adviser" with them during any formal hearings. However, if the adviser is an attorney—which is highly suggested if facing criminal charges—the student will have to retain an attorney at their own expense.
Disciplinary hearings typically occur in private settings unless parties agree to an open hearing. A school may schedule a hearing within 30 days of filing charges, and the parties involved will likely include:
- The accused student, or an organization like a fraternity
- The victim or complainant
- Any witnesses that either side wants to call to testify
All parties will receive a letter detailing the date, time, and location of the disciplinary hearing. A student must attend all stages of the conduct process, or they may receive additional charges and sanctions for failing to appear.
At the hearing, each side will present its case before a student conduct board or disciplinary panel. A hearing officer or chairperson will lead the board. The board will hear evidence regarding the violation from both sides, and each party may include testimony from witnesses.
Either party can challenge any evidence the other side presents and the hearing officer will accept or reject the challenge after considering both arguments. The disciplinary board will then determine the student's guilt based on the likelihood that the student violated the code—not necessarily whether they actually committed the offense. The board will need a majority of votes to find the student guilty, and the hearing officer will then make suggestions regarding sanctions or other consequences.
Conduct Code Violation Appeals
Following the ruling, the accused student may appeal the disciplinary panel's ruling, and they will have to submit their appeals request to the school's Appellate Board or Office of Student Conduct within a certain time, usually within five business days of the ruling. Like appeals following a criminal trial, the board will only grant an appeal if either of the following applies:
- Procedural errors, administrative mistakes, or other defects prevented a full and fair hearing.
- New evidence surfaced that was not known at the time of the original hearing that will likely alter the decision.
If the Appellate Board accepts an appeals request, they will review the matter and decide to either accept the original ruling or return the case back to the student conduct board or disciplinary panel for a new hearing. The results of the disciplinary hearing will not become final until all appeals have been resolved.
Get Help from an Experienced New Jersey Student Defense Attorney
With many years of experience defending students against disciplinary actions and defending those accused of crimes, attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Criminal Defense Team offer the best of both worlds to help increase your chances of obtaining the best outcome possible.
Attorney Lento's team has successfully defended numerous students throughout New Jersey and across the United States on a variety of criminal and non-criminal school code of conduct violations, and he will fight hard for your rights and future.
Contact attorney Lento and the legal team at the Lento Law Firm. You can call 888.535.3686 or contact them online to get the help you need.