Most colleges and universities in Pennsylvania have codes of conduct that define the academic, ethical, and legal standards students must follow. Student codes of conduct typically cover academic dishonesty, hazing, physical and sexual assault, and the destruction of property or property damage. Colleges also have their own set of sanctions and disciplinary actions the school can take against students who violate the codes.
While a student cannot be arrested for cheating on a test or plagiarizing an essay, they can be arrested for other offenses that violate municipal or state laws. For instance, assault, theft, and the intentional destruction of property are crimes in Pennsylvania, and any college student in the state can be arrested and convicted of the offense.
If you were arrested and charged with the destruction of property or property damage, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Even if the crime did not occur on campus, you could still face disciplinary action from your school simply because you are a student, and the whole ordeal can jeopardize your academic status and your chances of getting your degree. Therefore, you also need an attorney with experience defending college students in Pennsylvania.
Attorney Joseph Lento and the Lento Law Firm team have many years of experience defending students against a wide range of academic violations and criminal charges, and we can help you understand your options for mounting an effective defense. We can also fight hard for your rights, reputation, and future.
Property Damage Crimes on Pennsylvania College Campuses
All universities and colleges in Pennsylvania expect their students to abide by federal, state, and local laws, and colleges include this requirement in their codes of conduct. Even if a student is only charged with a crime, they may still receive discipline from the school. They may also face harsh legal penalties if convicted.
Regarding the destruction of property or property damage specifically, Temple University's code of conduct expressly prohibits “intentional or reckless damage to or destruction of University property or private property,” and Penn State uses a similar definition. The University of Pennsylvania requires its students to “refrain from stealing, damaging, defacing, or misusing the property or facilities of the University or of others,” and other colleges such as Villanova, Bryn Mawr, Drexel have their definitions of vandalism and property damage that run along the same lines.
Many colleges also include as property any school-owned computer equipment, and the school's code of conduct prohibits someone from interfering with the rights of others to use computer resources or services.
Additionally, all major universities have their police departments that can enforce laws and make arrests. University and 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.
Pennsylvania Property Damage Crimes
In Pennsylvania, destruction of property, property damage, and other forms of vandalism falls under criminal mischief. To be charged with the crime, you must have done any of the following:
- Intentionally or recklessly damaged tangible property
- Intentionally or recklessly tampered with tangible property to endanger another person
- Caused another person to suffer financial losses
- Intentionally defaced tangible property with graffiti or by using a paintball gun
- Intentionally damaged anyone's real or personal property
The penalties for conviction will depend on the value of the property damaged, and they are outlined as follows:
- Less than $150 in damage – A summary offense, with up to 90 days in jail
- $150 and $1,000 in damage – A third-degree misdemeanor and up to one year in prison
- $1,000 to $5,000 in damage – A second-degree misdemeanor and up to two years in prison
- More than $5,000 – A third-degree felony with up to seven years in prison
Furthermore, the state often singles out property damage crimes against certain institutions, such as schools and churches, as well as damaging government-owned property. You may receive enhanced penalties in these cases, and penalties for all property damage crimes include fines along with having to pay restitution for the damage.
The Importance of Having a Criminal Defense Attorney
Just because you were arrested for destruction of property or property damage does not mean you will be found guilty. You have the right to defend yourself, but you will need an experienced criminal defense attorney for help. An effective criminal defense attorney will have your rights and interests at heart and will work to help you get favorable results through any of the following methods:
- Helping you receive an unrestricted bond and quick release from incarceration so that you may resume your academics and can actively participate in your defense
- Examining the prosecution's evidence to expose gaps, errors, or misidentification
- Requesting certain evidence be excluded or suppressed
- Requesting exonerating evidence be included
- Invoking Pennsylvania's accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) program to help you avoid prosecution and conviction
- Filing pre-trial motions to protect your constitutional rights and privileges
- Creating reasonable doubt with the jury or judge by effectively challenging the evidence
- Advocating assertively on your behalf at trial
- Filing any post-trial motions and appeals for relief based on judicial misconduct or procedural errors
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has defended many Pennsylvania college students accused of destruction of property or property damage, and he can employ all of these tactics while helping you build a solid defense against the charges. Furthermore, he can assist with any disciplinary actions the school may elect to pursue against you regarding the offense and your arrest.
School-Related Consequences and Sanctions
If you are a Pennsylvania college student and you were arrested for the destruction of property, you may receive disciplinary action from the school regardless of whether the property was owned by the college or located on campus.
In most cases, 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. Temple University, for example, lists the following as possible sanctions a student can receive, and most colleges and universities have similar sanctions:
- Letter of reprimand that will remain on your academic record
- Disciplinary probation
- Loss of privileges
- Fines, which can be as high as $1,500
- Restitution for loss of property or damage
- Work assignments or community service
- Housing suspension or expulsion
- Suspension or expulsion from the university
- Revocation of your college admission or degree
- Academic sanctions, such as grade reductions or failing grades
- Suspension of an organization, such as a fraternity
Additionally, you can receive several sanctions at once, and you must complete all the sanctions' requirements to have them lifted. The sanctions you receive will depend on the nature and severity of the offense. In the case of suspension or expulsion, you will likely have to re-apply to the school after the mandated timeframe of your sanction to be considered for enrollment.
How Colleges Handle Code of Conduct Violations
Colleges and universities do not follow the same processes and procedures when investigating alleged offenses and imposing penalties as law enforcement and criminal courts. However, they do have their own disciplinary process, which may include the following steps:
- The school receives a formal complaint regarding the offense through its Office of Student Conduct or a similar office. This can come from another student, a member of the faculty or school administration, or a private citizen.
- The school will investigate the complaint and determine how to best handle the situation. Temple University uses a Process Review Meeting conducted by a Student Conduct Administrator, who reviews the matter with the accused student or organization and the complainant or victim.
- If warranted, the school will file charges against the student.
In certain cases, where appropriate and if all parties agree, the school may ask parties to resolve the matter through mediation. If they can resolve the issue, the student may not face charges or sanctions from the school.
If mediation is not an option, the school will charge the student with the offense if it finds sufficient cause to do so, and the disciplinary board will suggest sanctions. At that point, the student can voluntarily accept the sanctions, or they may attend a disciplinary hearing to answer the charges.
A college disciplinary hearing is not handled the same as a criminal or civil court hearing. Colleges and universities typically have a lower burden of proof to find a student guilty of an offense, and the rules of evidence do not apply as they do in a court of law.
Furthermore, a student may not rely on certain constitutional rights, such as the right to free legal counsel. However, a student may have a “personal adviser” present during the proceedings. In many cases, especially those involving criminal charges, the adviser can be an attorney, but a student must retain one at their own expense.
Disciplinary hearings occur in a private setting unless parties agree to an open hearing, and hearings are usually scheduled within 30 days of the filing of charges. The parties involved include:
- The accused student or organization, such as a fraternity
- The complainant or victim
- All witnesses that either side wishes to call to testify
All parties will receive information regarding the time, date, 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.
During the hearing, both sides will go before a student conduct board or disciplinary panel led by a hearing officer or chairperson of the board. The board or panel will hear evidence regarding the violation from both sides, and each party may include witness testimony. However, parties must promise to present only information that is accurate and truthful.
Either side may challenge any evidence presented, and the hearing officer will accept or reject the challenge as they deem appropriate. The disciplinary panel will then determine the student's guilt based on the likelihood that the student violated the code, and they will need a majority of votes to find the student guilty. The hearing officer or board chair will then make their suggestions regarding sanctions or other repercussions.
The Student Conduct Board will create a record of all conduct board proceedings, which may include an audio recording. Deliberations of the disciplinary panel will not be a part of the record, and the record will remain the property of the college or university.
Conduct Code Violation Appeals
If you are unsatisfied with the disciplinary panel's ruling, you may request an appeal. You will have to submit your appeals request to the school's Appellate Board or Office of Student Conduct within five business days of the ruling.
Similar to how appeals courts handle requests following a criminal trial, the Appellate Board will review your request to determine if either of the following occurred:
- Procedural errors or defects prevented a full and fair hearing.
- New evidence has surfaced that was not known at the time of the original hearing that will likely alter the decision.
If the Appellate Board accepts your 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. The Appellate Board does not record the appeals proceedings.
Get a Premier Pennsylvania Defense Attorney
Combining the best of both worlds, attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience handling school disciplinary actions and defending clients accused of crimes. He has also achieved a remarkable record of success in obtaining favorable outcomes for college students in Pennsylvania and across the country.
To increase your chances of getting the best results possible, you should 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.