Concerns for Penn State Students

Criminal Defense Attorney State College

I am among the small minority of criminal defense attorneys in the world who can say that most of his clients are college students. When people meet a criminal defense attorney, they often ask things like "how can you represent those vile criminals!?" I have heard this question enough times to automatically retort "most of my clients are college students. They are just younger versions of me."

Representing college students

With an office just a short walk from campus, most of my clients are Penn State students, but a surprisingly large number consist of students from other schools who managed to get in trouble while visiting their Penn State friends. Another big part of my client base consists of the newly minted alumni, who return to Happy Valley to visit friends who are still in school or to attend a football game.

A criminal charge can impact your future

As a college student, you face a unique set of issues that are of little concern to the conventional criminal defendant. With the conventional criminal defendant, our primary concern is usually reducing or eliminating prison time, while the primary concern for the college student is always protecting his or her record. Also, a minor offense has a much greater impact on a college student than on other people. For example, a summary offense conviction is of little importance to a skilled, blue collar worker. If you have a solid employment history, a forklift license or a CDL, an employer will likely hire you even if you have a string of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct convictions on your record. Such is not the case for those seeking white collar employment or entry into grad school, where a premium is placed upon a clean record.

Things have changed considerably since I went to Penn State in the early 1990s, aside from Katie Perry and Justin Bieber taking the place of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. When I was a student here, you were usually not going to get charged with underage drinking unless you presented a clear danger to yourself or others. Most RAs did not call the police when a resident smoked marijuana in the dorms. If you had a loud party, the police would usually just tell everyone to leave, rather than handing out citations and charging the host with furnishing alcohol to minors. Believe it or not, I went to Penn State for four years without knowing of a fellow student being charged with underage drinking at Penn State. People did get charged with underage drinking in their home towns, but rarely in Happy Valley.

Penn State has a Zero Tolerance Policy

The days of police and RAs looking the other way are over. Penn State now has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drugs and alcohol, and for the most part, the local police forces have followed Penn State's lead. Yet at the same time, Penn State students like to party just as much now as they did in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The inevitable result is that each year scores of students with bright futures find themselves charged with crimes. To make matters worse, it is far easier to look up someone's record in the internet age than it was in the era of paper records kept in filing cabinets and musty archive basements.

Penn State may also punish you

In addition to concerns about your record, you may also face repercussions with Penn State. If you attend another school and get in trouble in Happy Valley, Penn State Police may notify the police at your school, especially if you attend another Big Ten institution. Penn State's justice system is completely separate and independent from the criminal justice system. Thus, it is possible to be acquitted in criminal court, yet found to have violated the Code of Student Conduct. Having practiced in State College for some time, I am quite familiar with Student Affairs, while most out-of-town attorneys would have never had occasion to deal with Student Affairs.

Penn State Student Affairs

Ideally, you should meet with me before you go have your first meeting with Student Affairs. An experienced attorney, who knows both the people and policies of Student Affairs, can often assist you in reducing any potential sanction, or caution you against doing anything, which might undermine your defense in your criminal case.

I have included more information about Student Affairs on my "What Parents Need to Know" page, because in my experience, it is actually the parents who express the greatest concerns about possible discipline by Penn State. And while we are on the subject of parents, I suggest that you inform your parents as soon as possible if you are charged with a crime. As disappointed and as upset as they will be, most parents will be supportive and try to help you. Also, you should be aware that if you are under age 24, Penn State will inform your parents of any criminal charges leading to involvement by Student Affairs. Thus, it is better that your parents hear your version of events before they hear from Penn State. Occasionally, there are cases where a student simply cannot tell his or her parents. If that is the case, I will respect your situation and work with you.

Free initial consultations

Call me today at 814-308-0870 or email me for a free initial consultation if you have been charged with a crime or believe you may be charged with a crime.