When a student goes off to college or university at one of the many excellent institutions Pennsylvania has to offer, they expect to work hard, study, and obtain their chosen degree. Most students can expect a safe and trouble-free experience, but sometimes young people learning to become adults can make mistakes and find themselves not just in trouble with their school, but possibly even the law.
Pennsylvania law authorizes college and university police forces, like those at the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University, and Temple University, to not just enforce university rules, but also enforce public laws. Colleges and universities take their obligation to protect students, not just against violent crimes but also against crimes involving student health, safety, and welfare, very seriously.
Making threats against another student, faculty, or staff member or making a threat that causes the evacuation of a building is not only against the code of conduct at colleges and universities, but also against the law in the state of Pennsylvania. Whether a threat is made in all earnestness or if it is made in a way that wasn't intended to be serious, but was taken seriously, this can get a student into some very big trouble.
Trouble at school and with the law has the potential to derail a young person's life and have a very serious impact on their future. It is important for a student to learn a valuable lesson for making the mistake of issuing a threat, but they don't need to have their entire future derailed for a serious, but youthful lapse in judgment. Just because you have been accused of making a threat by another student or campus police, you don't have to face the maximum penalty.
To make sure you or your child can still have a bright future, you should be sure to find the very best representation. A premier Pennsylvania student discipline and criminal defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can provide you the very best legal representation. Not many criminal justice attorneys also have experience with student discipline cases, and it's important to find someone who is an expert in both aspects of a case regarding the making of threats. You want an attorney who has the many years of experience Joseph Lento has.
How the Criminal Process Works
In the criminal justice system, a local prosecutor pursues cases when they believe there is sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an individual has committed a criminal act, such as making threats. If a person is convicted of a crime, they will face criminal penalties, such as incarceration, probation, or the imposition of a fine. These penalties can be quite stiff and have the potential to have a tremendous negative impact on a student's future.
A good criminal defense attorney is essential to help get the charges reduced or suspended. An experienced attorney knows the law, but also knows how to work within the law to get the best outcome for their client. An experienced attorney, like Joseph D. Lento, will know how to get the outcome that is best for the student.
In cases involving a university or college student, however, a student may also have the additional component of dealing with their institution's student disciplinary process, and not all attorneys have the experience necessary to also get the best outcome from this process, as well.
The Lento Law Firm specializes in defending students accused of wrongdoing by their college or university.
What to Expect From Student Code of Conduct Violations
Getting state criminal charges reduced or dismissed is a very good start, but in cases where a student is found in violation of the law as well as their educational institution's student conduct code, you will need a lawyer who specializes in student defense. This specialization sets an attorney like Joseph D. Lento apart from a local law firm that likely does not have experienceworking within the school bureaucracy.
The college disciplinary process seeks to determine whether an individual has violated college policy. In this process, a preponderance of the evidence standard of proof is used to determine responsibility. A person who is found to have violated college policy may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise restricted from full participation in the college community.
While a criminal case must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the college disciplinary process only requires a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that there only needs to be at least a fifty percent chance that the claim against the student is true. That means there is a much lower bar to clear for the student's accuser to prevail. An attorney who only has experience with criminal defense may not be able to do as well with this very different evidentiary standard.
Some Real World Examples of Codes of Conduct Relating to Making Threats
It's easy to think of this as only a hypothetical situation, but schools take threats very seriously and can hand down very serious penalties, as well. Below are examples from actual Code of Conduct policies from some major Pennsylvania colleges and universities.
Temple University's Policies and Procedures Manual prohibits “Written, verbal, physical, or other conduct that intentionally or recklessly places another person in reasonable fear of:
- Bodily harm to that person;
- Bodily harm to a third party;
- Damage to property; or
- Physical harm to a Service or Emotional Support Animal…”
Additionally, the University of Philadelphia Code of Student Conduct “precludes acts or threats of physical violence against another person (including sexual violence) and disorderly conduct.” The University of Philadelphia also includes language banning hazing.
These are just two examples, but most colleges and universities will have similar rules in place. Not only does a threat of violence directly against another person violate most schools' policies, but threatening harm to a third person, or even a service animal, will be viewed as a threat that qualifies for disciplinary measures.
It is also important to note that threats against property are also forbidden in most cases as well. This could include a bomb threat or threat of arson to cause a building to be evacuated, or just threatening to damage another student's property.
Most schools have rules involving hazing for fraternities, sororities, or other social organizations. Many hazing rituals can involve threats against pledges or the recipients of the hazing. There are many opportunities for students to run afoul of the rules regarding threats. When under the influence of drinking or peer pressure, even a student who doesn't consider themselves a violent person could find themselves in circumstances where they could violate school policies against threats or threatening behavior.
It should be noted that even “disorderly conduct” is included in the policies against threats in most colleges and universities. Schools may have their own definitions, but according to section 5503 of the Pa. Cons. Stat., an individual can face charges for disorderly conduct in Philadelphia if he or she engages in violent or threatening behavior.
Pennsylvania Criminal Statute
There are several statutes that apply to threats in Pennsylvania. One of them is 18 Pa.C.S.A § 2706, terroristic threats. This statute defines Terroristic Threats as when the person communicates, either directly or indirectly, a threat to:
- commit any crime of violence with intent to terrorize another;
- cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly or facility of public transportation; or
- otherwise cause serious public inconvenience, or cause terror or serious public inconvenience with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience.
In addition to any other consequences the violation of this law can impose, there is also the possibility of the court assigning the defendant to pay restitution. This restitution can be “an amount equal to the cost of the evacuation, including, but not limited to, fire and police response; emergency medical service or emergency preparedness response; and transportation of an individual from the building, place of assembly or facility.”
Restitution can add up to a very significant amount of money that can leave a defendant with a financial burden that will follow them for the rest of their lives. A Terroristic Threat charge in Pennsylvania is nothing to take lightly. The law and your school will take it very seriously, and so should you.
Threatening Behavior May Not Be What You Think
Many of us may think of the stereotypical schoolyard bully when we think of students making threats, but threatening behavior can take many forms that will still land a student in trouble with both their college or university and the law. Retaining attorney Joseph D. Lento as soon as possible after being accused or charged with a violation of threatening behavior rules or statutes will improve your chances of having the charges reduced or suspended. Accountability doesn't have to cost you your education or your future.
If you simultaneously face criminal charges, your school may delay the disciplinary proceedings until those charges are resolved. But the disciplinary proceeding does not have to have a criminal charge or conviction in order to continue. The school may alternatively impose disciplinary measures as it pleases within the limitations of its school procedures. You should never underestimate the impact of school discipline, which can include suspension or expulsion. But even if a student avoids the most serious punishment, any discipline can mar your academic record in a way that interferes with your current and future education. You can lose references, recommendation letters, internships, graduate admission, and other important opportunities just because of a threat-related reprimand or other consequence.
What to do if You Are Charged With Making Threats
While it may be tempting to try to tell your side of the story, you should say as little as possible until you can talk to a good attorney. Be cooperative, but also be firm that you would like to consult an attorney before you share your side of the story. Also, don't post anything on social media about what is happening or give statements to any third parties. You may think it can help your case, but you could inadvertently say something that hurts your case and can cost you dearly. An experienced attorney like Joseph Lento knows the law and understands student code of conduct violations. He and his team will advise you on what to say and what not to say.
Getting into trouble will make most of us very anxious, and when we're anxious, we make mistakes. Having a knowledgeable and experienced attorney on your side will help give you peace of mind and can guide you through this extremely stressful process. That's why it's so important to find an attorney that you can trust to bring about the best resolution possible for your situation. It's important to find and retain an attorney as soon as possible to get the best resolution possible.
Premier Pennsylvania Student Defense Attorney Available
Pennsylvania student discipline and criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento combines criminal defense skills and experience with school discipline defense in hundreds of cases. It doesn't matter whether your making threats charge arose out of a fraternity or sorority event or other activity falling under your school's general student code of conduct. Attorney Lento has successfully defended hundreds of students nationwide on all kinds of misconduct charges, including charges for making threats to another person or property. Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team provide you with winning defense services in both the local criminal courts and your college or university's disciplinary proceedings. Retain a premier attorney having both the student discipline defense experience and criminal defense experience you need to save your Pennsylvania college or university education. Protect your education and future. Contact Attorney Lento now at (888) 535-3686 or go to our website for help.