When you go off to college, you are focused on getting good grades, making new friends, and enjoying your life without your parents watching you every second. What you don't expect is to be accused of a hate crime. And unfortunately, whether you are accused of a hate crime by law enforcement or your university, they will share the information, and you can be sanctioned by both entities simultaneously. Essentially, being accused of a crime can have serious repercussions for all areas of your life.
At the beginning of the school year, students are given a code of conduct the university expects them to follow. This code also includes the exact policies and procedures the school will take when investigating and adjudicating such accusations. If you are a Pennsylvania college student, hiring a student defense attorney is key to preparing a proper defense for both your disciplinary hearing at school and your criminal charges.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have an exceptional appreciation for what you are going through and understand how important your defense is to both your current and future reputation. Call Lento Law Firm today.
Crime Detection on Pennsylvania Campuses
Unfortunately, crimes happen on campus all the time. Students are pressured to succeed, and sometimes that pressure becomes overwhelming, and they end up exploding in strange ways. Blowing off steam can take the form of binge drinking, doing drugs, or even petty theft. When these things happen, they can compel further, more dangerous, or more serious activities – like tampering with fire equipment on campus or starting fights.
The risk of being caught committing these crimes is tenfold on college campuses because of the number of security cameras and campus security or police forces who are out patrolling the grounds around the clock. If you are caught committing a code of conduct violation on camera or by campus police, the record of the incident will be turned over to state or local law enforcement to assist them in their separate investigation. It is incredibly important to have a strong defense for both cases. Students who are unprepared inevitably face the maximum punishments from both law enforcement and their college disciplinary committee.
Pennsylvania Hate Crimes
If you are caught committing a hate crime on campus, the campus police force will turn over evidence of the incident to local law enforcement. The prosecution will review the evidence and determine if a criminal case can be brought against you. Prosecutors are especially keen on filing charges against college students because they believe it will help deter other students from behaving in a similar way.
In Pennsylvania, a hate crime occurs when a person is committing a criminal offense that either causes physical harm to a victim or threatens to, and is motivated by the victim's supposed (or actual) race, religion, or ethnic or national origin.
These types of hate crimes are called “ethnic intimidation” in Pennsylvania, and as long as the criminal offense is a summary offense (like disorderly conduct, loitering, harassment, etc.), the hate crime is classified as a third-degree misdemeanor. But if the criminal offense is not considered a summary offense, the penalty is a degree higher in the classification of the other crime. Meaning if you are charged with second-degree misdemeanor aggravated assault, a hate crime, or ethnic intimidation, the offense would be a first-degree misdemeanor charge.
Hate Crimes on Pennsylvania College Campuses
While colleges deal with hate crimes differently, they all agree that students who are accused of committing a hate crime on campus should be investigated and potentially punished for the behavior.
At the University of Pennsylvania, students are afforded specific rights of citizenship. These rights include:
- The right to access and participate in university opportunities.
- The right to freedom of thought and expression.
- The right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnic or national origin, age, disability, or status as a disabled or Vietnam Era veteran.
- The right to fair judicial proceedings when the university is determining the responsibility of the student's conduct.
Additionally, it is the responsibility of each student to make sure their conduct does not violate another student's rights of citizenship, including
- Disrespecting the health and safety of others, including threatening or actually committing acts of physical violence on another person.
- Possessing firearms or performing dangerous activities on university property or at university events.
- Disregarding another person's right to participate in university organizations and relationships by hazing or threatening to haze them.
- Committing hate speech, epithets, and racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious slurs.
Thus, if a student disrespects the health and safety of another student, or violates their rights in some other way because of their race, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnic or national origin, age, disability, or status as a disabled or Vietnam Era veteran, they will be referred for a disciplinary hearing.
Now at Temple University, hate crimes are considered "bias-related intimidation." Bias-related intimidation includes:
- Any act that is directed at a person or group that is actually motivated by, or it is reasonable to believe it is motivated by, that person or group's actual or perceived membership in a "protected category" and
- a reasonable person under the same circumstances should have known their actions would:
- inflict physical harm or severe emotional distress on a student, or
- damage a student's (or the University's) property, or
- place a student in reasonable fear of such physical, emotional or property damage, or
- cause a serious disruption to the University's orderly operation, or
- create a hostile educational environment by constantly infringing on the rights of one or more students' education.
If a student at Temple University is accused of a bias incident, they will be referred for a disciplinary hearing as well and they could face enhanced sanctions because of the severity of their actions.
False Reports of Hate Crimes on Pennsylvania College Campuses
Law enforcement and your college administration are dedicated to providing justice for victims. As such, when a student is accused of a hate crime, the university, and local law enforcement, will investigate the allegations. If they determine there is enough credence to support the allegation, they will notify the accused student.
Unfortunately, students can be falsely accused of a hate crime, and the truth may not be discovered till far into the investigation or prosecutorial process. Once the truth is acknowledged, the prosecution will drop all charges and potentially charge the accuser with the crime of false incrimination. Moreover, the university will drop the disciplinary charges against the student and then begin disciplinary actions against the false accuser instead.
Defending Pennsylvania Hate Crime Charges
Students who are charged with a hate crime should seek help from a criminal defense attorney who will review the state's accusations and look for any holes in their argument.
To secure a hate crime conviction, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of a hate crime. To beat these charges, you must present a strong defense. A skilled criminal defense attorney will research the incident and gather witness testimony and evidence to build your defense, attacking the gaps in the prosecution's argument in the process.
Possible defenses against a hate crime charge include:
- Proving you were in the process of committing one crime, and during that crime, you called the victim an insulting name, but that action was not racially charged.
- Acknowledging that you used a derogatory or insulting word when speaking to someone, but it did not create a reasonable fear of harm.
- Showing that the victim cannot prove you committed the crime because of their race, religion, or national or ethnic origin.
Now, not everything that you did or said while committing the underlying crime will be used in court – at least if you have the guidance of an expert criminal defense attorney who will find legitimate arguments to have them kept out of the purview of the court. There are some factors that can be shown in court to prove the victim's interpretation of the incident is correct, including showing:
- Your membership in a hate group.
- You possess literature associated with a bias towards a particular group of people.
- Tattoos show a particular bias towards a group.
- You have used slurs or hateful messaging about a particular group of people.
- You committed the crime on a particular holiday or event.
- You have a history of committing these types of crimes.
Attorney Lento is an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who has spent years working with students accused of both disciplinary actions and criminal offenses. When it comes to criminal charges that took place on college campuses, having an attorney with a unique understanding of how complex these proceedings can be is unequaled. By working with Attorney Lento, it could mean the difference between serving the maximum penalty and having your charges dropped completely prior to trial.
Pennsylvania Campus Hate Crimes Disciplinary Procedures
All colleges and universities have specific disciplinary procedures for adjudicating hate crimes. Make sure to refer to your school's particular code of conduct for the exact steps.
At PSU, students accused of bias-motivated incidents will be notified and invited to be interviewed by the university. At the end of the interview, the university official will determine whether to proceed with a formal investigation and hearing. If they do, the student will be asked to meet at a specific place and time to hear the charges against them, review the university's investigation, and present their own defense.
The disciplinary committee will review all the evidence and testimony presented by both sides and determine if the student is responsible for committing a bias-motivated incident and what sanctions should be imposed. Possible sanctions may include:
- Conduct warnings
- Conduct probation
- Termination of housing contract
- Educational or reflective sanctions
But at the University of Pennsylvania, if a student is accused of committing a hate crime, the Office of Student Conduct will attempt to resolve the issue with informal mediation. If that does not work, or they decide it is not appropriate, they will initiate a formal investigation into the matter. During the investigation, OSC will decide if disciplinary action is necessary.
At the disciplinary hearing, just like at PSU, the accused student will be given an opportunity to present a defense to prove they are not responsible for committing a hate crime. Then the Hearing Panel at UPenn will review the information presented to determine if the evidence proves the accused student is responsible and what sanctions are appropriate. Sanctions at UPenn range from anything like a warning or reprimand to a suspension or expulsion. The severity of the sanction will depend on the severity of the hate crime committed.
It is important to note that all colleges and universities in Pennsylvania offer students the option to appeal the hearing committee's decision. At PSU, appeals must be made within five business days of receiving the committee's decision letter. Further, appeals must be made on at least one of the following grounds:
- There was a procedural irregularity, including bias, that significantly affected the outcome of the case.
- The sanction or action plan imposed was not appropriate.
- There is new information available now that was not available during the hearing, and it could change the outcome of the case.
But at UPenn, you have ten days to submit your appeal, and the specific grounds available for the appeal are listed in the Hearing Panel's decision letter.
When you are facing sanctions for committing a hate crime on campus, an appeal is really your last chance to defend yourself. As such, they should be submitted with the same degree of fervor and determination as your original defense. If the idea of submitting an appeal is stressful or overwhelming, Attorney Lento can take the weight off your shoulders.
How a Qualified Student Defense Attorney Can Help
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of students around the country who have been accused of committing a hate crime on campus. They understand how nuanced college disciplinary actions and criminal proceedings are and will work tirelessly to defend you. Everyone is entitled to due process under the law, whether they are being adjudicated by state prosecution or their university's hearing committee. Attorney Lento will ensure you are fully prepared for both. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation today or visit us online.