Philadelphia college students who face criminal charges often have a great many questions regarding what is about to happen. This can be an incredibly scary time. You face criminal charges, that could carry fines, jail time, or even time spent in state prison. For many college students, this is the first time they are on their own, and they may find themselves in trouble with the University, or even the law.
These issues can be very complex, and students may not know where to turn. Here, we answer some frequently asked questions asked by Philadelphia college students facing criminal charges. Experienced Philadelphia attorney Joseph D. Lento is highly experienced in the area of college student criminal defense and is here to answer your questions, as well as represent you in your criminal case.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How many four year colleges are in the City of Philadelphia?
The City of Philadelphia has 19 four year colleges and universities within the bounds of the city, as well as several other educational institutions. Our law firm has represented students in nearly all of these institutions, in cases ranging from minor disciplinary hearings to major criminal charges.
2. What is the difference between an administrative action and a criminal charge?
An "administrative action" is a type of hearing run by your college or university to determine whether you committed some infraction of the institution's policies, rules, or the law. The administrative action can only affect your status at the university and is not a criminal charge that can result in jail or prison time.
A criminal charge is brought by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through a prosecutor. Criminal charges can be simple traffic tickets, misdemeanors, or even be felonies. Depending on the offense, you face fines, jail time, or even time spent in state prison.
3. Do you represent students in college disciplinary hearings?
Yes. A great deal of my firm's practice is based on protecting student's rights during college or university disciplinary hearings.
4. What is a student disciplinary hearing?
A student disciplinary hearing occurs when a college or university believes that some type of disciplinary measure is warranted against a student. This occurs when a student is alleged to have committed a violation of some rule, guideline, or even state law that requires an action by the university. Even though a crime may be the cause of the disciplinary hearing, the hearing is still not a criminal case.
5. What types of acts may lead to a disciplinary hearing in Philadelphia?
There are several different alleged acts that may result in a university or college wanting to take disciplinary measures against a student. Some of the offenses may include, but are not limited to:
- Drunk Driving or Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of Drugs
- Underage Possession of Alcohol
- Possession of Fake ID
- Traffic Offenses
- Drug Charges
- Marijuana Charges
- Firearm / Weapon Charges
- Violent Crimes
- Domestic Violence
- Sex Crimes
- Property and Theft Offenses
- Internet / Cyber Crimes
- White Collar Crime
- Any Other Violations of Student Code of Conduct
6. How does a disciplinary hearing work?
While every school can be a little different, typically a hearing starts with some form of informal hearing or conference at which time the student can accept or deny the charges against him or her. At this same time, the student may also be able to request a formal hearing in order to fight the allegations.
Students have the right to review documents, evidence, or challenge this evidence at a formal hearing. He or she can confront witnesses, and call witnesses on your own behalf. This can all be done with the help of your attorney, who has the years of experience necessary to effectively defend your case.
7. Can I be forced to testify at a disciplinary hearing?
No. Although you have the right to testify at the disciplinary hearing, you cannot be forced to. You have rights under the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution against self-incrimination. Your attorney can help you determine whether testifying is in your best interests, as well as:
- Review documents, evidence, and student's records
- Accompany the student to any hearing
- Prepare witnesses and exhibits
- Provide cross-examination questions to be asked of witnesses testifying against student
- Make sure hearing officers or school officials obey all requirements of due process
- File any appeals
8. What could happen as a result of a disciplinary hearing?
A student faces a variety of different sanctions if he or she is found to have committed a violation. These include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Warning — A warning does not result in any specific action, but warns the student against future similar conduct. This warning may or may not be reported on your transcript, or as part of any transfer.
- Reprimand — Similar to a warning, a reprimand may not be reflected in a student's permanent record. However, as part of this action, the university or college might refer the student to complete a certain counseling or educational program.
- Probation — Probation is usually not a permanent mark on your record, but usually requires you attend some type of treatment, give restitution, or complete other various requirements in order to clear your record.
- Suspension — Misconduct that is deemed serious enough to merit a suspension means that the student will be removed from the college or university for a set period of time. The suspension will be reflected on the student's transcripts, and he or she will have to obtain permission from the Dean's Office to re-enroll in classes. During the suspension, the student will usually not be able to take any classes at another school that can be transferred to the university or college, and he or she will need to disclose the suspension if the student applies to any other schools.
- Expulsion — If the college or university expels a student for the alleged misconduct, then he or she will often be permanently removed from the school. An expulsion becomes part of the student's permanent record and will be reported to all outside agencies and any other universities or colleges the student might apply to.
9. Can you represent me if I am charged with a crime?
Yes. I and my firm are highly experienced criminal defense lawyers in all areas of criminal law. We have represented both students and non-students in court for many years.
10. What types of offenses are commonly charged against Philadelphia students?
While a student could theoretically commit any type of offense, the following tend to be the most common:
- Drug Crimes: Drugs either on or off-campus can result in significant criminal charges, including felony-level charges.
- Violent Crimes: Fighting, assault, and other violent acts are often grounds for the college or university to begin proceedings to ban a student from campus, and possibly the educational institution as a whole. In addition, any officers that encounter the incident may also charge the students involved with assault, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, or similar crimes.
- Underage Drinking: Underage drinking is very common on campuses, and may result in criminal charges on top of disciplinary hearings.
- Hazing: Different kinds of "hazing" may also constitute a crime, depending on the circumstances.
- Fake I.D. Possession: Having a fake I.D., and attempting to use it can easily get you caught and charged with a criminal offense.
- Sex Crimes: Crimes involving sexual offenses such as rape, sexual assault, and the like are met harshly from two fronts: the state and the university. A majority of colleges and universities nationwide are subject to Title IX laws, meaning they must carry a separate policy that enforces sexual misconduct violation procedures specifically. Consequences of these violations nearly always result in expulsion or suspension for the student, and the criminal consequences are much worse.
- Weapons Possession: Possession of a weapon on most college campuses is illegal. This is true even if you could legally carry off-campus. If you are in possession of an illegal weapon, the consequences could be even worse.
- Property and Theft Crimes: Stealing and vandalism type crimes are incredibly common on college campuses. Minor theft crimes may be misdemeanors while creating very expensive damage or stealing an expensive object can result in felony charges (even if it was only meant as a prank.)
11. Can criminal charges from off-campus activity result in a disciplinary hearing?
Even conduct that happened completely off campus can lead to a disciplinary hearing, especially if that conduct results in criminal charges. You will be forced to defend yourself on two fronts, but you do not have to do it alone.
12. I was found "not guilty" in my criminal case. Does this mean I am "not guilty" in my disciplinary hearing?
Not necessarily. Criminal cases are subject to a very high burden of proof. Even if you were found not guilty in a criminal case, the disciplinary hearing is not connected to it in any way. Typically, universities do not require the same level of proof as criminal cases, so you can still face consequences back at school, despite a criminal acquittal.
13. Do I need an attorney to represent me?
While you are permitted to represent yourself in either the disciplinary hearing or your criminal case, this is not recommended at all. These proceedings can be incredibly complex, and trying to handle either or both at the same time can be extremely difficult.
A Philadelphia Defense Attorney At Your Side
In and out of the courtroom, a defense attorney can make a strong difference in the potential fallout of any incident a student is involved in. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced criminal defense attorney, who handles cases both on the criminal front, and at the administrative level with educational institutions. If you, or your student, are facing criminal charges, contact us today at 215-535-5353.