New Jersey law prohibits a person from knowingly bringing or possessing any firearms or other weapons on any school campus, including colleges and universities, without proper authorization. Additionally, all colleges and universities in New Jersey have rules in their codes of conduct that prohibit students (or anyone for that matter) from bringing or possessing weapons on campus.
Colleges and universities expect students to adhere to all local, state, and federal laws, both on and off campus. If a student is arrested and charged with a crime, the school can impose harsh penalties in conjunction with any legal consequences the student may face from the underlying crime.
If you are a college student in New Jersey, and you were arrested for bringing or possessing weapons on campus, you have every right to be concerned. Not only can you face jail time and other serious legal repercussions, but the ordeal could place your academic future in jeopardy.
Therefore, you need an attorney with experience in criminal defense as well as defending college students in administrative proceedings. Attorney Joseph Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense and Student Defense Team have many years of experience defending college students against criminal charges and representing students before administrative hearings.
We have achieved a long record of success, and we can fight hard to protect your rights and future. Contact us today for a complete review of your case and help with developing the strongest defense possible.
New Jersey's Weapons Laws
New Jersey's weapons laws cover a broad range of offenses, and NJSA 2C:39-5, e. defines the state's laws regarding “Firearms or other weapons in educational institutions.” Any person who knowingly possesses “any firearm in or upon any part of the buildings or grounds of any school, college, university, or other educational institution” may face third-degree felony charges.
You can face fourth-degree charges if you knowingly possess on school grounds any component that can readily be converted for use as a firearm or weapon. You can also face a disorderly persons misdemeanor charge if you knowingly possess on school grounds an “imitation firearm.”
It doesn't matter if you have a valid permit to carry the firearm or a valid purchaser identification card, and you can face charges if you do not have “written authorization of the governing officer of the institution.”
Furthermore, New Jersey has separate laws to cover specific types of weapons. The penalties you could receive will depend on the type of weapon you possessed. For handguns, machine guns, and assault rifles, you could face a second-degree charge. Prison sentences range from five to 10 years.
Rifles, shotguns, and weapons such as BB guns, air guns, and paintball guns can bring third-degree charges, with possible prison sentences of between three to five years. The law also covers “other weapons,” which include knives, clubs, bats, and metal knuckles. You can face fourth-degree charges and up to 18 months in prison.
Weapons Regulations of New Jersey's Colleges
Commensurate with state weapons laws, most colleges and universities in New Jersey have their own rules regarding students having guns or weapons on campus. Rutgers University prohibits anyone from “using, possessing, or storing of any object classified as a weapon by the State of New Jersey on University property or illegally possessing a weapon on off-campus property.”
Rutgers' rules also apply to dangerous chemicals, fireworks, or explosives or “utilizing any instrument in a manner that endangers or tends to endanger any person.”
The only exception is for small containers of pepper spray or some similar substance used in self-defense. Also, law enforcement officials authorized to carry firearms are excluded.
Princeton University has similar weapons regulations and makes exceptions for “prop guns” used in theatrical productions and “brightly colored” or “clearly identifiable” toy guns, such as water guns. The school also allows students to “possess small pocketknives or kitchen implements and may use them for their intended purposes only.”
How New Jersey Universities Handle Weapons Violations
Considering the long list of school shootings and other similar tragedies that have happened throughout the United States, colleges and universities take weapons violations very seriously.
In cases of serious crimes such as weapons violations, colleges will cooperate with law enforcement and not shield a student in any way from subsequent prosecution and conviction of the crime. Princeton states in its regulations that the university's Office of General Counsel may provide a student with names of defense attorneys, but the university will not provide legal counsel for a student, and it deems the student solely responsible for any actions that follow involving legal proceedings.
If a student faces court proceedings regarding a crime, whether committed on campus or off, the university may also initiate disciplinary proceedings if it finds just cause. The university will make its own determinations about a student's involvement in a crime regardless of whether the student is ever convicted in court.
Rutgers, Montclair, and most major universities in New Jersey have their own police departments. Princeton's law enforcement agency is the Department of Public Safety (DPS). Officers in college police departments have the same authority as any other commissioned police officers and can make arrests.
The only limitation to their authority is that their jurisdiction usually lies solely on campus property. However, college police departments will typically cooperate with local, state, and federal authorities during investigations and prosecutions of crimes that occurred off campus.
Why Having a Criminal Defense Attorney Is So Important
If you were arrested and charged with a weapons violation on a college campus, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
If this is your first offense of weapons violations, you may qualify for diversion programs. The US Pretrial Services Program allows first-time offenders to take part in certain programs to avoid prosecution and prison time, such as pretrial intervention.
Juveniles and adults facing criminal trials may pursue a pretrial intervention program that provides access to counseling, supervision, and other services designed to help an offender get their life back on track. The program is voluntary, and if you take part in the program, a pretrial services officer will supervise you for the time you are in the program.
In determining if you qualify, a pretrial services officer will investigate you fully and research your history of conduct, especially as they relate to the weapons charges you face. They will then recommend either for or against your placement in the program. If they approve you, the officer will then decide how long your supervision will last and mandate other provisions you must complete in the program.
If you complete the program, the court may dismiss the charges against you, but they may still remain on your record. The only way to have the charges removed from your record is through expungement.
Although the program offers a way for first-time offenders to avoid trial, getting into the program can be challenging because of all the requirements you must meet. Therefore, you need an experienced defense attorney to help you with the application process and advocate for you to ensure you qualify.
If you do not qualify for pretrial intervention or if you have a record of prior offenses, you can still benefit from having an experienced defense attorney to fight for your rights and interests throughout all legal proceedings. Some tactics your lawyer may use to help you obtain favorable outcomes include:
- Petitioning the court for an unsecured bond and quick release from custody so you can continue your academic studies and actively participate in your defense
- Examining all evidence against you and requesting the court exclude or suppress certain evidence
- Requesting that any exonerating evidence be included in your defense
- Filing pretrial motions to protect your constitutional rights and privileges and help you obtain better bond conditions
- Filing post-trial motions to mitigate your sentence
- File motions for dismissal or acquittal
If you stand trial and receive an unfavorable verdict, your lawyer can also help you file a request for an appeal if judicial misconduct or procedural errors led to a guilty verdict or otherwise unduly influenced the outcome of the trial.
Facing Administrative Hearings From Your College
If you are caught with a weapon on campus, your college or university will most certainly investigate the situation and decide how best to proceed. In most cases where students stand accused of serious criminal violations, colleges, and universities will conduct formal administrative hearings to determine a student's likely involvement in the crime and decide on consequences.
If your school decides to initiate a formal hearing involving your case, you will receive a letter from the college that details the specific code of conduct violation you allegedly committed, along with the date and time of the hearing.
Formal hearings are similar to court trials, but they are typically more subjective than criminal trials. Colleges must adhere to due process and provide a fair and impartial hearing, but colleges do not have the high burden of proof criminal prosecutors have to find a student guilty.
Additionally, you may not have certain protections you would have in a court of law, such as the right to privacy and the right to free counsel. Also, you may not be able to rely on rights such as not making self-incriminating statements or suppressing evidence because of unwarranted searches and seizures.
Although you have the right to have an attorney present during all administrative proceedings, your college will not appoint an attorney for you, and you will have to retain legal counsel on your own. Regardless, it is imperative you have a lawyer represent you to advocate for you and increase your chances of getting the best outcome possible.
Sanctions and Other Serious Consequences
Unlike courts of law, colleges do not necessarily need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt you are guilty of a weapons violation. After considering all the evidence at the administrative hearing, the administrative board will determine your guilt based on the likelihood you committed the offense. If they find you guilty, the hearing officer or chair of the administrative board will then recommend consequences, which will likely include sanctions against you. Sanctions are similar to criminal penalties, but in an academic sense, and they include any of the following:
- Expelling you from college altogether
- Suspending you for a period of time or with conditions
- Placing you on disciplinary probation
- Removing you from university housing
- Restricting your access to the college and college activities
- Making you perform campus services similar to community services for criminal convictions
The college may also withhold your degree, and the board may recommend you take part in therapy or criminal diversion programs. You may also have to pay restitution to any victims of the crime. Any sanctions you receive from your school will come in addition to any criminal penalties you receive if convicted.
Appealing the Ruling
Just as with a conviction in a court of law, you may request an appeal of the administrative board's ruling against you. However, as with criminal appeals, your attorney must show that judicial misconduct or procedural errors unduly affected the ruling. Your attorney may also file an appeals request if new evidence surfaced during or after your hearing that would have made an impact on the ruling.
After receiving your appeals request, the college's Appellate Board or similar office will review the matter and decide whether to keep the original ruling or send the case back to the administrative board for a new hearing. The results of the disciplinary hearing will not become final until all appeals have been resolved.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Student Defense Attorney for Help
Considering all that's at stake, you want an experienced criminal and student defense attorney on your side from the start. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's Student Defense Team have extensive experience defending clients against criminal charges and representing students before college administrative hearings.
We can sit with you and review your case and help you devise an effective strategy for both the criminal proceedings and school-related administrative proceedings you will face for a weapons violation charge. You can count on us to fight hard to protect your rights and future.