Criminal Charges in College: “A conviction is forever”

Most college freshmen are teenagers prone to the juvenile ideas, urges, and impulses of that age group reinforced by group life on residential campuses. The discipline they must exert daily for long, tiresome hours of sedentary study and class attendance is usually difficult for such vibrant individuals, who at times welcome cheap thrills as entertaining diversions from their boredom and frustration over long periods of necessary but resented self-restraint. Some students find such diversions in bottle bombs.

Two students at MessiahCollege, a Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania religious campus, got into serious legal trouble with criminal charges while in college by diverting themselves with a bottle bomb. Police say the two, aged 18 and 19, detonated such a device on a fourth-floor stairwell landing of an occupied dormitory, where campus security officials found remnants of the bomb. Police found bomb debris 15 to 20 feet away from the remnants on the next lowest stairway landing. There were no injuries or property damage. When the bottle-bombers turned themselves in, police filed criminal charges that the college students had committed felonious arson, felonious possession of explosive or incendiary material, and disorderly conduct.

The incident demonstrates how easily immature students intending nothing worse than mischief, a prank with no criminal purpose, can get into in deep legal trouble with criminal charges and college problems by acting unreflectively on their dumber ideas. As the police reported “the bottle bomb could have easily caused someone in the occupied residence hall to sustain serious injuries to their extremities, loss of eyesight, or severe burns.” Now the two defendants must confront two sets of potentially dire consequences, the immediate in the present and the remote in the future.

Their first concern, of course, must be the sentence the court might impose if they are found guilty and convicted on the criminal charges while in college. In Pennsylvania, courts have authority to order jail time of up to seven, ten, or twenty years for third-, second-, or first-degree felonious arson criminal charges on college students. The facts available seem to indicate that imprisonment would be unlikely as both defendants as first offenders on criminal charges and as college students would seem to be good candidates for probation. Nevertheless, imprisonment is a distinct possibility not to be discounted lightly or entirely. The defendants need professional assistance of counsel to formulate legal and factual defenses, negotiate with the prosecutor, fight for acquittal if there is a trial, and present the best possible allocution at any sentencing.

The state court is not the only forum they might have to face. Under its General Policies, the campus may institute disciplinary proceedings “against a student charged with a violation of law which is also a violation of College standards without regard to pending civil litigation or criminal arrest and prosecution. College disciplinary proceedings may be carried out prior to, simultaneously with, or following any off-campus civil or criminal proceedings.” Disciplinary sanctions start with a letter of reprimand or warning and ascend in order of severity through loss of privilege, monetary fine, disciplinary probation, suspension, up to expulsion. The disciplinary hearing procedure is not a model of simplicity, and here again professional assistance of counsel can make a big difference in the outcome.

On the criminal charges for these college students, there are also remote, future consequences, and perspective is necessary to comprehend their potential effects. Long after they serve their sentences on the criminal charges as college students, long after they discharge their disciplinary sanctions, their convictions will remain. The penalties are temporary; the convictions are permanent. Felony convictions always impair financial credit, making purchase of a home and even a car out of reach for some.

Worse than the effect on credit may be the damage to their employment prospects. In June 2013, the United States Department of Justice reported that students arrested for even minor crimes face extra obstacles in the job market. A criminal record keeps many people from employment even after they pay their dues, qualify for the job, and are unlikely to offend again, says Amy Solomon, a senior adviser in the Office of Justice Programs and author of the report, which points out that most employers “probably” or “definitely” would not hire any applicant with a criminal record.

While the tone of this article is both sobering and real, its purpose is to demonstrate the far-reaching consequences of facing criminal charges while in college. An experienced and skilled defense attorney can be the difference between having to explain yourself for the rest of your life or enjoy your later years with the knowledge you took care of business the right way.

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About the Author: Bart Kaspero

Bart Kaspero is an experienced criminal defense and regulatory attorney who has focused on using technology and the law in bringing privacy to criminal records. His research has been published in several legal journals and his unique background has helped a broad spectrum of clients. He has provided legal training to lawyers across the US on how to navigate complex criminal record legislation and how to effectively provide privacy to those with past arrests, charges, and convictions. His innovative methods have earned him a top position of authority on the subject of criminal record privacy as well as trust within the criminal data supply chain.