The Top Ten Most Common Crimes and Offenses for Students in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
It is the start of new academic year and high school along with college students and their parents have most likely set many goals. None of these goals, however, included getting arrested or charged with a crime! The reality, however, is that this can happen and the seriousness of the charge can range from minor summary offense (disorderly persons) to a felony crime
A criminal charge and the possible conviction for a student, especially one in college or graduate school, can be devastating. It can hinder their ability to obtain internships, get into certain graduate programs and seek employment post-graduation. In our law firm’s experience, the most common offenses that we see in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are as follows:
- Drunk Driving
- Criminal Trespass
- Simple Assault
- Underage Drinking
- Carless Driving
- Reckless Driving
- Possession of Illegal Drugs and Narcotics
- Sexual assault/rape
- Aggravated Assault
- Drunk driving (DUI/DWI)
Drunk or drugged driving can happen to virtually anyone, but a college student is especially susceptible to them given that the academic environment frequently fosters and even promotes the consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs. Pennsylvanian and New Jersey have similar drunk driving laws. If a person is convicted of drunk driving either in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, there is a strong possibility that they will lose their driving privileges in both states.
Pennsylvania classifies drunk driving as a criminal offense, whereas New Jersey classifies it as a traffic offense. While it is not a criminal offense in New Jersey, most employers who see it on the background check will interpret it as criminal charge. Neither drunk driving charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are considered felony offenses, but these charges can increase to such level if the DUI/DWI involves injury or even death to another person. These drunk driving charges which involve injury and death carry with them a presumption of incarceration and in some cases a mandatory minimum sentence in state prison.
- Criminal trespass
While many find this hard to believe, college students are frequently arrested for trespassing usually because they are dared to do something to gain acceptance in a club or even a sports team! Criminal trespass is illegally entering, as well as obtaining access to a facility or structure with any type of force (breaking), surreptitiously (secretly) or by subterfuge (deceit). In these situations, criminal trespass is a felony crime. It is a felony of the 2nd degree if forced is used to enter and a felony of the 3rd degree if entry is made by subterfuge or deceit. (Title 18, Section 3503)
In addition, criminal trespass is also ignoring signs posted (“no trespassing”), as well as ignoring verbal commands to leave or stay off the premises. In these situations, a person will be charged with misdemeanor offense (3rd degree) in Pennsylvania or possibly summary offenses in the Commonwealth. With regards to New Jersey, often refers to trespass as “unlicensed entry of a structure” and it is considered a crimes of the 4th degree (2C:18-3). A defiant trespasser or simple trespasser would commit a disorderly person’s offense,
College is a time to make a lot of new friends but sometimes create enemies. Fights can start over different political views or values. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, a person can commit the crime of simple assault if he attempts to cause or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injuries to another person or negligently causes bodily injury from another person with a deadly weapon. A person also commits simple assault if he puts another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
It is important to understand that a threat itself doesn’t constitute a simple assault. A threat is only simple assault if the actor is in a position to carry out the threat immediately and takes affirmative steps to do so. It’s also important to consider that the prosecution doesn’t need to establish the victim of an assault sustained an actual injury. Equally important, however, is that the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intended and attempted to put the victim in fear. The victim’s state of mind, therefore, is irrelevant.
- Underage drinking/Fake ID
Underage drinking is also a common offense that we see for high school and college students. Students frequently host parties off and on campus and local police often receive reports of these situations. If you are charged with underage drinking either in Pennsylvania the person will not lose their driver’s license, but more then likely will have to enroll in some diversion program, which requires community service, the payment of fines and other conditions which can take away from their time in school or even hinder their ability to obtain an internship. An underage drinking charge will show up on a background check unless it is properly disposed of through a diversion program, which results in an expungement.
If your son or daughter is charged with underage drinking, it’s important to understand that it’s a Summary Offense in Pennsylvania. This means it is much less serious than a misdemeanor or a felony charge. Summary Offenses are the least serious offenses in Pennsylvania and the maximum fine is usually around $300.00 plus court costs. Despite the low level of this offense, your son or daughter will need to appear in court. At court, the judge, magistrate or commissioner will offer a first time offender what is sometimes called Alternative Rehabilitate Disposition (ARD) or Alternative Pre-Adjudication Disposition under Title 42 Pa. C.S.A. Section 1520.
These programs usually involve community service, or a Saturday class focused on underage drinking and drug use. The advantage of these programs is that the student doesn’t need to enter a plea of guilty to any charge. The prosecution is withdrawn after the student completes the program. While there is a record of the citation, it is usually expunged automatically or with a petition for expungement by an attorney.
While these alternative programs will effectively resolve a one-time poor decision, Pennsylvania will still consider it a first offense under the law. Alternatively, if your student had previously received a similar disposition in New Jersey, a Pennsylvania district attorney may not provide this as an option for your student. Even if your student qualifies for a 1st time offender program, technically Pennsylvania can still, through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) suspend his or her license for 90 days. Usually, however, there is no license suspension if the student completes the program. Remember, however, that it’s still considered a first offense.
If your student commits the offense again, they won’t get the program and there is 1 year license suspension for a first offense and a 2 year license suspension for a 3rd offense. The drivers’ license suspension applies even if a car isn’t involved. Remember driving is privilege in Pennsylvania and not right. PennDot can suspend a license even without a criminal conviction. The suspension applies whenever a student is guilty of any of the following:
• Lying about their age of obtain alcohol
• Carrying a fake ID
• Carrying, possessing or transporting alcohol
If you have questions about underage drinking charge in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, give our office a call.
- Careless driving
Careless driving is committed when the person drives the vehicle “without due caution and circumspection” or in such a way that it endangers or likely endangers a person or property. Careless driving usually carries with it 2 points and is obviously a much better alternative to reckless driving.
A speeding ticket in New Jersey can carry with it anywhere from 2 points (1-14 miles over the speed limit) to up to 5 points (30 miles or more over the speed limit) but a person driving at a high rate of speed is often charged with following too closely under 39:4-89 which carries 5 points. A person is guilty of following too closely when he or she is closer than “reasonable and prudent”. Points are very serious in New Jersey just like Pennsylvania and a person who acquires 12 or more points will have his or her license suspended in the Garden State.
Points are only deducted in the following ways:
- defensive driving program – 2 points – may be used to subtract points once every 5 years;
- driver improvement program – 3 points – may be used to subtract points once every 2 years;
- probationary driver program – 3 points; or
- one year with no violations – 3 points.
Even if you don’t have 12 points on your New Jersey driver’s license, a person who receives 6 or more points within three years will be assessed a surcharge. Surcharges are in addition to any courts or fines or penalties and are billed yearly for 3 years. If you accumulate 6 or more points within 3 years you will receive a $150.00 surcharge plus $25.00 for each additional point over 6 points. For instance, there is a $1,000.00 surcharge for the 1st and 2nd DWI offense.
If you do acquire 12 or more points on your license the length of the suspension depends on the amount of time it took you to accumulate those points.
For example, if you acquired 12 or more points within 2 years or less there is a 30 day suspension. If it took you more than 2 years to accumulate 12-14 points it would be less than 30 days. For more information on New Jersey driving offenses I encourage you to visit my free download section continue reading my blog and previous articles on DWI, license suspensions, and illegal drugs in the Garden State.
- Reckless driving
Reckless driving usually carries 5 points is committed when a person drives his or her car “heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard” of the rights of safety of others, in the manner that endangers of likely endangers a person or property. It is much more serious than carless driving and carries with a possible license suspension. You should never plead guilty to a reckless driving charge without first speaking to a lawyer about your options
- Possession of illegal drugs or narcotics
Our firm often defends the charges of Possession of a Controlled Substance and Possession with the Intent to Deliver or Manufacture a Controlled Substance (PWID). Each of these crimes contains elements which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Possession of a Controlled substance (simple possession) is usually misdemeanor while possession with the Intent to Deliver (PWID) is a felony charge. To convict a person of simple possession the District Attorney (Prosecutor) must prove that the item was a controlled substance or a counterfeit controlled substance. As stated earlier controlled substances are classified according to five schedules. Some of these drugs do have a medical use while others such as cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, LSD, and PCP don’t have any recognized medical use.
The second element of simple possession is that the defendant must either actually or constructively possess the controlled substance. Actual possession is when the drug is found on the person and constructive possession is when it is found in his area of immediate control. Finally, the prosecution, through the district attorney, has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant knew that he was in possession of the drug. While this may sound obvious there are many cases where a person is charged with simple possession because others have put illegal drugs in their bag in order to avoid detection.
To be convicted of Possession with the Intent to Deliver (PWID), the prosecution has to prove all of the elements of simple possession and one more element. PWID requires that the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person had the specific intent of delivering the item to someone else or using the item to manufacture a controlled substance. If you are charged with either of these crimes it is important that your attorney review the elements of each of the offenses with you. All of the elements have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
When a judge or jury is considering whether a person had possession of a controlled substance they are permitted to evaluate the facts and circumstances surrounding the person’s connection to the drug. Keep in mind that two people can be charged with the possession of the same drug along with conspiracy if its proven that a person was part of a conspiracy and another conspirator knowingly possessed the drugs.
Finally, if a judge or jury is considering possession and a possession with intent to deliver charge they are permitted to consider all of the evidence including but not limited to the quantity and quality of the drugs, the monetary value, and the circumstances surrounding the person’s possession of them. The judge or jury can consider direct and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence would be witnessing of actual drug transactions and circumstantial evidence would be a large quantity and drug paraphernalia to sell or distribute drugs (digital scales, wrappers, baggies, etc.).
- Sexual assault/rape
Allegations and criminal convictions pertaining to sexual misconduct or sex crimes are obviously serious and expose a convicted person to state prison sentence; even if they have no prior criminal history!
In addition, New Jersey, like Pennsylvania, maintains harsh sentencing statutes for those convicted of these offenses. Further, registration requirements under Megan’s Law, subject convicted individuals to an additional requirement. New Jersey has Parole Supervision for Life (PSL). When a person is convicted of certain sex based offenses they are required to register under New Jersey’s parole supervision for life statute. They include:
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact
- Criminal sexual contact
- Endangering the welfare of a child
- Possession/distribution of child pornography
- Luring, kidnapping (judge’s discretion)
Registration As a Sex Offender and Future Prospects
Most people don’t even realize that a conviction for a sex crime may lead to registration under Megan’s Law. A sex crime conviction often makes it difficult to qualify for professional licensing, find a job, or even find a place to live. If you are a registered sex offender you must register with the local police and in some situations your information may be posted online in a sex offender registry.
- Aggravated assault
Aggravated assault is a felony of the first degree or the second degree depending on the actor’s intent. Aggravated assault is a felony of the first degree if the prosecution can show the serious bodily injury caused intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances “manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life”.
Even if the prosecution, however, can show a “extreme indifference to the value of human life” a court can still convict someone of an aggravated assault of the second degree when a person causes bodily injury intentionally or knowingly with a deadly weapon. A deadly weapon is defined very broadly in Pennsylvania and can be anything including a champagne bottle.
Stalking in Pennsylvania is defined as a course of conduct that places another in reasonable fear of bodily injury or cause substantial emotional distress in that person. This isn’t limited to simply following a person around but also includes a variety of communications to the victim. Stalking is a misdemeanor of the first degree in Pennsylvania, unless the person has been previously convicted of it against same victim or the defendant has been convicted of any crime of violence involving the same victim, or his or her family/household; then it’s a felony of the 3rd degree. The prosecution in a stalking case, like any criminal charge, must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
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