Heading off to college is an exciting time and offers many young adults their first taste of freedom and independence. However, with this newfound freedom comes the responsibility of making the right choices in light of the lack of parental supervision and abundant peer influences that can accompany college life.
In 2019, a total of 27,300 criminal incidents on college campuses were reported to police and security agencies. This translates to 18.7 on-campus crimes reported per 10,000 full-time-equivalent students.1 For each of these criminal incidents, a college student may have been convicted of a crime and seen their bright future eclipsed by a criminal record and more.
Today’s blog discusses navigating the legal consequences of college campus crimes. From understanding what these crimes entail to the legal consequences involved, we’re covering the topics below to help you stay informed.
Understanding College Campus Crimes
Understanding college campus crimes is critical to creating a safe and secure learning environment for students. These crimes encompass a range of illegal activities that occur either on college campuses or close by and affect the welfare of students, faculty, and staff. A college campus crime can include a range of discretions, including theft, vandalism, assault, sexual harassment, drug possession, and more.
Beyond the immediate impact on victims, campus crimes can disrupt the educational experience, instill fear and anxiety among students, and undermine the sense of community on campus. Furthermore, the unique dynamics of college campuses, with their diverse populations of young adults and often sprawling open spaces, tend to present particular challenges for law enforcement and campus authorities in preventing and addressing these incidents effectively. Therefore, by understanding and evaluating the nature and prevalence of campus crimes, educational institutions can develop comprehensive safety measures and support systems to ensure a secure and conducive atmosphere for all academic community members. Moreover, discussing the legal consequences of campus crimes with students entering or attending a college or university can help raise awareness of the life-altering repercussions a campus crime conviction can present.
Who Can Be Charged for College Campus Crimes?
College campus crime charges are not exclusive to the students attending the school. In fact, anyone who commits a crime while on campus can be charged with a college campus crime, including students, faculty, staff, visitors, or any other person (such as a trespasser) who is on campus and engages in illegal activities. If a person violates the law, regardless of their affiliation with the college or university, they are subject to potential criminal charges.
Common Types of Campus Crimes
Given the nature of campus dynamics, including the newfound freedom of living independently, there are some crimes committed on college campuses more so than others – especially given the prevalence of underage drinking and illegal drug activity that often occur with young adults testing their freedoms, succumbing to peer pressure, reacting to stress, and more. Following are some of the more prevalent campus crimes reported each year.
College campus drug charges include possession, use, or distribution of any controlled substances. Some examples of drug charges are possession of a controlled substance, illegal possession of prescription drugs, possession with intent to sell, drug trafficking, marijuana possession, possession of drug paraphernalia, and trafficking of prescription drugs.
DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence and refers to the act of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. In Texas, a first-time DWI charge, although considered a misdemeanor, can stay on a driver’s record for the rest of their life and have significant consequences if not properly dealt with.
Aggravated assault is a serious criminal offense that involves causing severe bodily injury to another person or using or exhibiting a deadly weapon during an assault. In these cases, serious or severe bodily injury refers to an injury that creates a substantial risk of death or causes permanent disfigurement or impairment of a bodily organ or limb. In Texas, aggravated assault is typically classified as a felony offense.
Traffic violations are common on college campuses, and charges can result in fines, a driver’s license suspension, or even jail time for severe violations. Traffic violations include speeding, illegal parking, failure to yield to pedestrians, running red lights or stop signs, driving without a valid license or insurance, reckless driving, or blocking emergency routes.
Theft and Property Crimes
Theft, also known as larceny, is the act of taking someone else’s property without their consent, with the intent to deprive them of it permanently. In the context of college campuses, theft may occur when someone takes another person’s belongings, such as laptops, phones, textbooks, bicycles, or other valuable items, without permission and with the intention of keeping those items for themselves. Theft can occur in dorm rooms, public areas, libraries, or from unattended personal belongings. College campus property crimes, however, can be more serious and include vandalism, arson, and burglary.
Burglary is the act of unlawfully entering (i.e., breaking and entering into a property without permission) a building or structure with the intent to commit a crime inside, such as theft, vandalism, or assault. College campus burglaries can occur if someone unlawfully enters a dorm room, office, classroom, or any other campus building with the intent to steal or commit another offense. It is important to note that the act of breaking and entering is a key element of burglary. If someone enters a building lawfully but commits theft inside, it may not constitute a burglary charge.
Common types of sex crimes include sexual assault, rape, exposure of organs, statutory rape, child pornography, and lewd and lascivious acts. Whether on college campuses or elsewhere, offenses of a sexual nature carry severe social stigma and can be punishable by hefty fines and jail time if convicted. Furthermore, offenders convicted of a sexual crime against a minor must register as a sex offender, which is public record.
A crime of harassment typically involves a pattern of unwanted and harmful behavior intended to intimidate, annoy, alarm, or torment another person. Although the exact definition and laws surrounding harassment can vary depending on the jurisdiction, crimes of harassment typically involve repeated actions or communications directed at the victim – that are unwanted and unwelcome by the victim – like threats and intimidation, sexual harassment, or cyberbullying.
Faked or Forged Identification
Many college students use fake IDs to purchase alcohol or enter an age-restricted venue, such as a bar. In Texas, the penalty for possessing or using a fake ID or forged identification document can vary based on the specific circumstances and the nature of the offense.
For example, possession or use of a fake ID for the purpose of misrepresenting age to purchase alcohol or gain entry to an age-restricted venue may be charged as a misdemeanor. However, production or distribution of fake identification documents can result in felony charges, which can carry significant fines and imprisonment.
Negligent manslaughter in Texas, also known as criminally negligent homicide, is a criminal offense that occurs when an individual causes the death of another person due to criminal negligence. In other words, the person’s conduct posed a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to others, and they were aware of the danger but disregarded it.
An example of negligent manslaughter occurring on a college campus might involve a situation where a student or staff member was responsible for maintaining campus safety, such as the operator of a university shuttle bus. If the driver operates the vehicle recklessly, leading to a fatal accident, and it is determined that their actions constituted criminal negligence, they could be charged with criminally negligent homicide.
Cybercrimes are any criminal activity that involves the use of computers, computer networks, or digital devices as a primary means of perpetrating an offense. Cybercrimes are committed through electronic means and often target computers, networks, and data to gain unauthorized access, cause damage, steal information, commit fraud, or engage in other illicit activities. Examples of cyber crimes committed on college campuses include hacking, phishing or identity theft, cyberstalking, data breaches, or online fraud.
Many college campuses have an active Greek community of sororities and fraternities, which actively recruit students for membership. The Greek system promotes camaraderie and philanthropic activity among student members and alums. However, hazing among pledges and members of fraternities and sororities is widespread.
Hazing is classified as any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical safety of students. For example, when a fraternity forces a pledge or member to drink excessively (i.e., dangerous levels of alcohol) in the name of “brotherhood,” it can be considered hazing.
Legal Consequences of College Campus Crimes
The legal consequences of college campus crimes can have far-reaching effects on the individuals involved (students) and the institutions themselves. These consequences can be severe and significantly impact the lives of everyone involved.
Implications for Students
Depending on the nature and severity of the offense, students found guilty of campus crimes may face criminal convictions, which can lead to fines, probation, community service, or incarceration. Also, a conviction means a criminal record, which can follow an individual throughout their life, affecting employment opportunities, housing options, and even their ability to secure loans or educational aid.
Furthermore, in addition to these legal penalties, students involved in campus crimes may also face disciplinary actions from the college or university, such as suspension, expulsion, or loss of scholarships. Given these far-reaching implications for students, hiring an experienced student defense lawyer to help expertly navigate the situation is wise.
Implications for Institutions
When a crime is committed on a college campus, the institution suffers right alongside the perpetrator of the crime. For example, the college may face legal liability for campus crimes, especially if they are found to have inadequate safety measures or negligent security practices. They may also face increased regulatory scrutiny from government agencies, accrediting bodies, or other authorities. And finally, high-profile campus crimes can damage the reputation of the educational institution, affecting recruitment efforts and donor contributions.
Student Code of Conduct
The Student Code of Conduct at colleges and universities is a set of rules and regulations that outline students’ expected behavior and responsibilities within the campus community. It guides students to understand the institution’s expectations and standards of conduct and helps maintain a safe and respectful learning environment for everyone.
Aside from outlining the student’s rights and responsibilities, the importance of academic integrity, and behavioral expectations, the Student Code of Conduct also defines strictly prohibited behaviors and actions on campus, such as harassment, discrimination, violence, vandalism, substance abuse, and possession of weapons.
Moreover, this document will also detail the college’s disciplinary process, including the procedures that the institution will follow when addressing alleged violations of the code, including investigation, hearings, and potential sanctions (which can range from warnings and probation to suspension and expulsion).
Students are usually required to read and acknowledge the Student Code of Conduct when they enroll at a college or university. Adherence to the code is considered a condition of continued enrollment, and violations of the code can lead to disciplinary actions by the college or university, as well as potential legal consequences if the violations involve criminal behavior.
How Law Enforcement Responds to Campus Crimes
Managing campus crime responses is a collaborative effort involving both local law enforcement agencies and on-campus police or security forces, as each entity has distinct roles and responsibilities in these situations.
Local Police vs Campus Police
Local law enforcement agencies, such as city or county police, have jurisdiction over areas that include college campuses, and they are responsible for enforcing state laws and handling criminal matters that occur on the campus and in its vicinity. For example, when a campus crime is reported, local law enforcement officers may be the first to respond to the scene, conduct investigations, gather evidence, and interview witnesses. Furthermore, serious or complex campus crime cases may involve detectives from local agencies that specialize in particular types of crimes, such as sexual assault or cybercrime.
Many colleges and universities have their own campus police or security force responsible for maintaining safety and security on the campus grounds. The jurisdiction of campus police is usually limited to the college or university property and surrounding areas, where they handle a range of issues, including responding to incidents, patrolling the campus, conducting investigations, and enforcing campus rules and regulations.
In cases of serious crimes, major incidents, or when requested for assistance, campus police and local law enforcement may work together to investigate and address the situation.
In these cases, jurisdictional boundaries may determine which agency takes the lead in an investigation, but both forces often share information and resources to ensure a comprehensive response. Overall, collaborative efforts between local law enforcement and campus police are critical for effective crime prevention and response on college campuses.
Reporting Procedures and Processes
Most colleges and universities have policies in place to encourage prompt and confidential reporting of crimes and incidents. Typically, reporting campus crimes can be done through various channels, including contacting the campus police or security department, calling emergency services (911), or utilizing designated campus reporting mechanisms.
Legal Support and Representation for Campus Crimes
Facing a crime charge by campus police on college campuses is generally the same as anywhere else – because a crime is still a crime, no matter where it is committed. Therefore, anyone – student or faculty – charged with committing one on a college campus still faces the same associated local, state, or federal penalties, such as fines or jail sentences. However, in addition to these penalties, the perpetrator of a crime on campus may also face a college disciplinary process.
What to Expect in a Legal Proceeding
The purpose of college campus legal proceedings is to address the alleged violations of the Student Code of Conduct or other campus regulations. They are separate from criminal court proceedings and typically handled by the college or university’s disciplinary system. Although each campus is different, most follow the same standard operating procedure, which includes a notice of allegations, an investigation, and a disciplinary hearing.
Typically, the accused student has the right to be informed of the charges, to present their defense, to question witnesses, and to be represented by an advisor or attorney (in some cases). However, the procedures and rights afforded to the accused may vary depending on the institution’s policies.
After the disciplinary hearing, the presiding board will make a decision based on the evidence presented – and if the accused is found responsible for the violation, the panel will impose appropriate sanctions or disciplinary actions. In many cases, students have the right to appeal the outcome of the disciplinary hearing if they believe there were procedural errors or that the decision was unjust.
Finding the Right Legal Representation
If you are a student facing college campus criminal charges (or the parent of one), it’s crucial to seek the advice of an experienced college student defense attorney to help protect the student’s rights and navigate the process. In these situations, an experienced lawyer for college students can advise and represent the student’s best interests in both university disciplinary hearings and court proceedings.
In Texas, an experienced lawyer for college students is ready and waiting at the GHC Law Firm of Austin. We firmly believe that one mistake should not destroy hope for a future that is just beginning. As criminal defense and Texas legal system experts, we will use all of our knowledge, experience, and vast network of contacts to aggressively and tirelessly fight for your rights and future.