Pennsylvania College Student Defense: Assault and Battery Charges

Your college years can be some of the most rewarding of your life. No one said it would be easy, though. You've got a calculus test on Friday, your roommate's gone off their meds, and the last time you did laundry, you turned all of your underwear a bright shade of pink. Think all that's hard? Try dealing with an allegation of campus assault as well. Pennsylvania schools have little tolerance for disciplinary misconduct, and even one offense can get you suspended or even expelled.

You might think things couldn't get worse than a disciplinary misconduct hearing. They can. A disciplinary hearing could be the least of your problems. Assault isn't just a violation of school policy; it's against the law. Break state or local laws, and you could find yourself arrested, trying to defend yourself in court, and maybe even going to jail.

Here's the thing: if you're a student who's been accused of assault, your situation can get very complicated very fast. Maybe you're dealing with disciplinary charges; maybe you're dealing with criminal charges; maybe you're dealing with both. You can't handle this situation all on your own. You need an attorney. As a student, though, you need an attorney who understands your particular situation: an attorney who can deal with faculty and administrators; an attorney who can represent you in court; an attorney who knows exactly what you're going through. In Pennsylvania, that's the Criminal Law Team at LLF Law Firm.

Crime Detection on New Jersey Campuses

Watch any police procedural on television, and you'll likely hear the words “assault and battery” at some point. It's a common crime, but it's also a serious one.

Of course, anyone in Pennsylvania can get charged with assault and battery. As a student, though, you're especially vulnerable to charges. Why? Because you're under more scrutiny than the average Pennsylvanian.

Like any other citizen, you have to worry about the police arresting you any time you commit a crime. And, make no mistake, your campus police force is a real police force. Pennsylvania law entitles campus departments, like those at Penn State, The University of Pennsylvania, and Temple University to enforce public laws the same as any other local law enforcement. Most officers are trained at police academies. They're skilled investigators and skilled interviewers. They can arrest you, and they can refer you to local prosecutors.

It's not just the police you have to worry about, though. You also have to worry about professors, TAs, dorm managers, resident assistants, cafeteria workers, university vice presidents, and the provost. All colleges and universities take their responsibility to protect students seriously. Typically, their policies can be even more restrictive than the law. The bottom line is, if you should commit assault, you're almost certain to be caught, and you can find yourself accused even if you didn't do anything wrong. And, if your school even suspects you of breaking the law, you can be sure they'll report you to local authorities in addition to charging you themselves.

Your best chance of proving your innocence, or negotiating a fair settlement, is to make sure you have the right legal representation. What does that mean? If you're a student, it means finding someone who can handle criminal charges and disciplinary misconduct charges, because you could be dealing with either or both. There aren't a lot of attorneys like that in Pennsylvania. Our Criminal Law Team though, has dedicated our careers to helping students get the justice they deserve.

Pennsylvania Assault and Battery Laws

Assault and battery almost always get mentioned in conjunction with one another. That's because they tend to occur together. As a legal term, assault means threatening to do another person bodily injury. Battery means actually inflicting bodily harm on another person. As you might imagine, any person accused of battery has probably committed some form of assault as well, and many people who commit assault eventually follow through on their threats with battery.

Of course, every state's criminal code is different. Pennsylvania law treats assault and battery just a little differently from everyone else. To begin with, the state doesn't have a law against “battery” per se, and assault—at least as it's typically defined—isn't a crime at all. Instead, the state has two assault laws, both of which refer to battery.

  • Simple Assault: In Pennsylvania, simple assault means “knowingly,” “intentionally” or “recklessly” causing or attempting to cause bodily injury to another person. Note that threatening to do bodily harm is not a crime. However, you don't have to actually harm the person to be charged and convicted of simple assault. Swinging at someone and missing, for instance, qualifies as simple assault.

Most cases of simple assault are treated as second degree misdemeanors. If you're convicted you could serve up to a year in jail and pay up to $2,500 in fines. Should you assault someone under the age of 12, however, the offense is upgraded to first degree, which means up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Alternatively, if you should engage in a fight by mutual consent, the charge is lowered to third degree.

  • Aggravated Assault: Basically, aggravated assault differs from simple assault in degree. Aggravated assault involves the attempt to cause seriously bodily injury to another person—permanent loss, impairment, disfigurement, or the risk of death.

In contrast to simple assault, aggravated assault is treated as a felony, of either the first or second degree. Second-degree offenses are those that don't actually result in serious injury. They carry a sentence of up to ten years in prison and/ or a $25,000 fine. First-degree offense can be punished by up to 20 years in prison and/ or a $25,000 fine.

Other Related Crimes in Pennsylvania

There are other crimes in Pennsylvania that are often connected to assault. Sometimes these occur in conjunction with assault; other times, they are charged when an assault charge seems too strong for a given situation.

Perhaps the most common of these is “physical menace.” Again, Pennsylvania has no law prohibiting simple threats of bodily harm. However, should you threaten someone in such a way that they believe they are in imminent danger of harm, you can be charged with physical menace.

In addition, “terroristic threatening” is against the law in Pennsylvania, and, depending on the nature of the offense, can garner prison sentences of up to seven years.

Defending Pennsylvania Assault Charges

An arrest for or charge of assault is not the same as a conviction. Like any other citizen of Pennsylvania, you have the right to defend yourself, argue your innocence and/ or present evidence that mitigates the nature of your actions. In addition, you have the right to seek help in preparing and presenting your defense. The US Constitution gives all of us the right to an attorney.

In fact, our Criminal Law Team can help in dozens of ways if you've been charged with assault. We can

  • Represent you at arraignment and make sure your bond terms aren't restrictive so you can continue your studies.
  • Utilize preliminary examination procedures to find problems with the case against you, such as misidentification, the failure to preserve evidence, or the failure to accurately document observations.
  • Employ your rights of discovery to uncover exonerating and/ or mitigating evidence from the police and prosecution, evidence that could help get your charges reduced or dismissed.
  • File pretrial motions regarding your treatment by the police and whether any of your constitutional rights might have been violated.
  • Insist the prosecution meet the highest burden in proving the elements of the crime, and use this high burden to force voluntary dismissal of the charges.
  • Represent you at trial, including making an opening statement, examining and cross-examining witnesses, submitting evidence, and offering a closing argument.
  • File any post-trial motions and/or appeals regarding adverse findings, prosecutorial misconduct, or court errors.

Our Criminal Law Team has successfully defended hundreds of students in Pennsylvania and nationwide, helping them prove their innocence or reduce their charges in assault and battery cases.

Pennsylvania College and University Assault Policies

Criminal charges are just one of your worries in a case of assault. Your school will almost certainly charge you with disciplinary misconduct as well. Wherever you happen to be enrolled in Pennsylvania, you can be sure your college or university will follow all state and local laws. Many schools even write this into their student codes of conduct. Penn State's disciplinary policy, for instance, prohibits any “Violation of law: Any action or behavior which violates federal, state, or local law.”

Beyond such broad prohibitions, college and university policies often have their own rules that echo what the law says. Temple University's rules, for example, forbid

  • Intentional or reckless physical harm to another person
  • “Written, verbal, physical, or other conduct” that might make another person fear bodily harm or harm to their property
  • Disorderly conduct, including “fighting, threatening, or violent behavior”

It's worth noting that not all of these examples would qualify as a criminal offense. In general, school policies tend to be more restrictive than state and local laws. Temple, for instance, bars any form of threat, though according to state law, simple threats are not crimes. In such cases, school policy supersedes the law. Whether or not you are arrested or charged by local law enforcement, you can expect your school to hold you accountable for all of its rules, investigate you, and if you are found responsible you will be punished with sanctions up to and including expulsion.

Pennsylvania University Disciplinary Procedures

If you've been charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, your school may wait until after any criminal proceedings before initiating its own disciplinary proceedings. It's under no obligation to do so: you can certainly find yourself facing two investigations and two hearings at once. One way or another, your school will almost certainly charge you, even if you should be exonerated by the courts. In fact, you don't have to be charged with a crime at all to be investigated, adjudicated, and found guilty by your school. After all, school policy isn't tied to state or local laws.

Of course, just like local law enforcement, your school has processes and procedures in place for handling disciplinary misconduct allegations. Most provide you with at least some due process rights, though usually not all the rights you might expect to receive in a court of law. Procedures vary from university to university, but they almost always involve three parts: an investigation, an adjudication—often a hearing, and a chance to appeal the hearing verdict.

The University of Pittsburgh disciplinary process offers a helpful illustration.

  • All misconduct allegations are referred to the Office of Student Conduct.
  • An Office of Student Conduct representative must determine if a given allegation actually qualifies as a student code of conduct violation.
  • Allegations that don't qualify are summarily dismissed. Allegations that do qualify are subject to adjudication through either a Level I or Level II hearing, depending on the nature of the alleged offense.
  • Level I hearings are for less serious infractions, and the process is relatively informal. For instance, complainants are not involved and respondents have no right to call witnesses. On the other hand, a level II hearing involves formal presentations from both sides including the submission of evidence and the examination and cross-examination of witnesses.
  • In either case, you have the right to appeal the final hearing outcome to the Director of Student Conduct. However, grounds for appeal are strictly limited to
    • Whether your rights were denied during the process
    • Whether procedures were followed correctly
    • Whether the outcome meets the facts of the case
    • Whether sanctions fit the finding
    • Whether any new evidence has arisen

Most students recognize that they need an attorney if they're facing a criminal charge. Many don't realize the same is true of a disciplinary charge. They assume a school investigation and hearing will be straightforward and the sanctions minimal. In fact, you could be facing probation, suspension, or expulsion. Expulsion typically includes a transcript notation about the nature of your offense that could keep you from enrolling anywhere else. Your academic career could effectively be over. And, because colleges and universities aren't bound to follow courtroom procedure, your case could be even more complicated than an actual court case.

Just as in a criminal case, an attorney can help you prepare your defense, coach you on how to respond to questioning, and in many instances accompany you to proceedings and meetings. You need the right attorney though. Only an attorney with experience handling school disciplinary cases will know how to talk to faculty and administrators. Only such an attorney will know how to navigate the complexities of campus justice.

Premier New Jersey Student Defense Team, LLF Law Firm

Our Criminal Law Team ares skilled Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who built their career representing student clients. We have vast courtroom experience; we're just as comfortable standing in front of a university appeals board.

Our Criminal Law Team knows the challenges you face as a student. No matter what kind of charges you're facing—criminal or disciplinary—his job is to get you a fair hearing and the best possible resolution to your case. Our Criminal Law Team does more than that, though. We want to make sure your education doesn't suffer while you go through the process of defending yourself. We take care of the details so you can concentrate on attending class and studying.

If you're a student in trouble—no matter what the charges—invest in an attorney who knows how to handle whatever may come up. Protect your education and your future. Contact LLF Law Firm now at 888-535-3686 or go online for help.

Contact Us Today!

The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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