Students who attend college in Pennsylvania never anticipate being accused of a crime. They are more focused on having a good time, partying with their friends, and pursuing their degrees in the hopes of landing a great job after graduation. When a college student is arrested for a crime, it can affect both their on- and off-campus lives. This is especially true when the student is accused of a harassment offense.
Most schools have a particular code of conduct they expect their students to follow, which includes avoiding committing any type of harassment. So, in addition to being in trouble with federal, state, or local laws, students accused of harassment could be facing university disciplinary charges.
If you are a college student in Pennsylvania, working with a student defense attorney is the best way to ensure you have a strong defense for both your school disciplinary hearing, as well as your criminal charges. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have a unique understanding of both the law and the nuanced school proceedings. To protect your reputation, your criminal record, and your education, call Lento Law Firm today.
Crime Detection on Pennsylvania Campuses
Harassment happens all the time, both on Pennsylvania college campuses and off. But while you are on campus, your risk of being caught harassing another person is even higher on campus. Pennsylvania colleges and universities take the protection of their students very seriously. As such, they are equipped with their own police forces, security cameras, and an anonymous reporting system. Not only do these protections enable the college to pursue disciplinary charges against the alleged defendant, but they also will be turned over to law enforcement to aid their separate case against a student for harassment.
If you are accused of harassing someone while on campus in Pennsylvania, you need a strong defense—especially if the local law enforcement is also seeking to adjudicate this behavior. Hiring Attorney Lento will ensure you receive the best possible outcome for your case.
Pennsylvania Harassment Crimes
Even though you are a Pennsylvania college student accused of harassment does not mean you can't be accused of violating a local or state harassment law. In fact, the police force at your school can enforce public criminal laws – meaning you can be adjudicated both in school and in a courtroom. Prosecutors have a field day with college students and make sure to charge them with any crime the on-campus police force notifies them of – including the following harassment-related crimes.
Harassment Crimes on Pennsylvania College Campuses
According to Pennsylvania statutes, harassment is defined as:
- The person has the intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person and then they either
- Uses or threatens to use some sort of physical contact;
- Follows the other person in public;
- Repeatedly commits inappropriate or illegitimate acts;
- Communicates with the other person using lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, or drawings;
- Communicates anonymously, repeatedly;
- Communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours; or
- Communicates repeatedly in other ways.
In Pennsylvania, harassment charges carry sentences of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Of course, the sentence depends on the severity of the harassment being charged. Some harassment offenses will not carry the third-degree misdemeanor sentence described above. Instead, defendants may receive a maximum penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.
In addition to these sentences, having a criminal record that reflects a harassment charge or conviction can have several supplementary consequences, including a negative reputation that will follow you beyond the hallowed halls of your college campus. Further, a state harassment charge can compel your school to carry out a disciplinary hearing for the issue, which might end in suspension or expulsion.
Other Harassment Crimes on Pennsylvania College Campuses
Harassment is a kind of umbrella term for lots of different scenarios and crimes, including cyber harassment of a child, stalking, and sexual harassment.
Cyber Harassment of a Child
In Pennsylvania, a person can be accused of cyber harassment of a child if they had the intent to harass, annoy or alarm the child and used electronic means to either:
- Makes seriously reproachful comments about the child's physical appearance, sexuality, sexual activity, or mental or physical health condition, or
- Threatens to inflict harm on the child.
Pennsylvania has clear laws around stalking and defines it as when one person makes repeated acts that are intended to put another person in fear, fear of bodily harm, or cause significant emotional distress.
An extension of the Pennsylvania law governing harassment includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can include:
- Offensive comments about a person's sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
- Repeated comments or teasing that is sexual in nature and makes the victim feel uncomfortable.
- Unwanted sexual advances.
- Touching someone in a sexual way.
- Showing someone sexually explicit content without their consent.
Sexual harassment becomes illegal when it is done so often or so severely that it creates a hostile environment or interferes with a person's ability to go about their day.
If a college student on a Pennsylvania campus is caught cyber harassing a child, stalking somebody, or sexually harassing someone, they will be adjudicated, both by their school and by local law enforcement.
False Reports of Harassment on Pennsylvania College Campuses
Both law enforcement and campus administration are committed to upholding justice. When a student is accused of harassment on campus, a chain of events is initiated. The campus will interview the accused student and determine if there is enough of a case to warrant a disciplinary hearing, and they will refer the case to local law enforcement. So, if a student is caught knowingly falsely reporting another student for harassment, they will be charged for it under local laws, and the university will initiate disciplinary actions against them.
Defending Pennsylvania Harassment Crime Charges
If you or someone you love has been charged with harassment or a harassment-related crime, you have the right to work with a criminal defense attorney. At trial, the state must prove that you are guilty of harassment beyond a reasonable doubt. It is incredibly important that you present a strong defense during this trial. Harassment charges are usually based on someone else's point of view. To prove that you are innocent, your attorney will research the incident and determine if the witness is credible, if there is any underlying motive for the alleged victim to accuse you (ex. bias), or if the instances of repeated contact can be explained away.
An experienced defense attorney will be able to review your case and find witnesses and evidence to defend you, guaranteeing you the best possible outcome for your case. Some strategic options Attorney Lento might pursue for your harassment charge include:
- Being released from jail without bond while awaiting your trial.
- Asking for preliminary examination procedures to uncover holes in the prosecution's case.
- Requesting discovery to find evidence that might mitigate your charges or clear your name completely.
- Negotiate with the prosecution for a plea bargain or their voluntary dismissal of the charges.
Attorney Lento has spent years working in student discipline and criminal defense. He has unmatched experience and understanding of the complexities of these proceedings. Working with Attorney Lento may mean the difference between the maximum prison sentence and full exoneration. Call our offices today.
Pennsylvania College and University Harassment Policies
In addition to the local and state laws governing harassment, Pennsylvania colleges and universities are free to adopt their own codes of conduct. At the beginning of each year, students are given a copy of the student handbook, which contains the code of conduct and the procedures the university will follow to punish students who have violated the code.
For instance, at Temple University, harassment is wholly prohibited. There, harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct that is directed at a person based on one or more of their protected characteristics or statuses. The conduct must be so severe and constant that it interfere's with that person's employment, academic performance, or participation in University programs or activities. Additionally, the conduct must create an environment that a reasonable person would find offensive, hostile, or intimidating. Protected characteristics and statuses include:
- Marital Status
- National origin
- Ethnic origin
- Sex (including pregnancy)
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Veteran status
- Genetic information
It is important to note that for any conduct to truly be adjudicated as "harassment" at Temple University, the it must happen more than once and be so serious that a reasonable person would feel harassed.
Pennsylvania Campus Harassment Disciplinary Procedures
The actual disciplinary procedures will change from one Pennsylvania college to the next. The exact steps can be found in your school's code of conduct. At the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), the student code of conduct states that every student has a right of citizenship. Most importantly, the right of student citizenship explains that all students have the right to have access to and participate in the programs and activities the university offers. Additionally, it is the responsibility of students to refrain from conduct towards another student that inhibits their right to student citizenship, which includes refraining from harassing behavior.
If a student at UPenn is accused of harassment, the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) will reach out to the accused student and interview them. Most of the time, the OSC tries to resolve issues with informal mediation. When this does not work, or if it is not appropriate, to begin with, OSC will refer the start of a more formal investigation into the complaint. Once the investigation is complete, OSC will issue formal charges against the student.
After the accused student is notified of the formal charges, they are given an opportunity to simply accept the sanctions the OSC intends to impose. But if the student continues to argue their responsibility, OSC will bring an official disciplinary hearing. During the disciplinary hearing, the accused student will be given a chance to present a strong defense, bringing relevant evidence and witness testimony to assist their case.
The Hearing Panel will review the information presented by both sides and determine if the accused student is, in fact, responsible for harassing the victim and, if so, what sanctions are appropriate. Sanctions at UPenn can range anywhere from a warning or reprimand to a suspension or expulsion.
Further, if you are found responsible, UPenn will allow you to appeal the decision. Appeals must be submitted within ten days of finding out the Hearing Panel's decision. Additionally, the appeal must state the specific grounds the appeal is based on. The Disciplinary Appellate Officers will review the appeal and determine if the Hearing Panel's decision should be upheld, amended, or revoked.
Appeals are your last chance to defend yourself and should not be written lightly. So, if the idea of presenting an appeal after trying to defend yourself feels overwhelming, Lento Law Firm can help ease that burden.
How an Experienced Student Defense Attorney Can Help
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is an experienced student defense attorney who refuses to take the easy road. He understands how nuanced these proceedings can be and will work diligently to shed light on the weakness in the prosecution and university's case. Remember, colleges and universities tend to focus on their own reputation over truly helping students. Therefore, they are more likely to punish students without really investigating the issue. Every person in the United States is owed a fair and equal trial, whether they were accused of a crime or their university has accused them of a disciplinary issue.
Attorney Lento will ensure both the university and local prosecution uphold your due process rights and do not subject you to any unnecessary consequences. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation today or visit us online.