Experienced Defense Counsel Serving Clients Throughout Central Pennsylvania

Photo of Matt M. McClenahen
Photo of Matt M. McClenahen
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What Parents Need to Know

What Parents Should Know When Their Child Is Charged With A Crime

As a criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania, most of my clients are Penn State students. Not surprisingly, it is usually their parents who hire me. I strive to keep an open line of communication with the parents of clients, and, in a lot of cases, I actually spend more time talking to the parents than the client. This is because I actively encourage parents to take an interest in their children’s criminal cases. By contrast, a public defender has neither the time nor obligation to talk to a client’s parents.

Most Of My Clients Are Penn State Students

When I first meet with a client, I ask the client whether I will be allowed to discuss the case with anyone else. Usually, Penn State students will allow me to speak with their parents without hesitation. The client then signs a release form, which lists the parents. The client may also include another attorney, as many of my clients are referred to me by other lawyers from throughout the nation and especially other parts of Pennsylvania.

Quite a few of my clients’ parents are Penn State alumni, as am I. One thing that alumni parents need to be aware of is that the climate has changed since you were a student in Happy Valley. Gone are the days of kegs in the dorms, the Phi Psi 500, the Skeller Pony Races, the Regatta and Gentle Thursday. Penn State now takes a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol and party behavior in general. The RA is no longer going to look the other way or give a mere warning when kids smoke marijuana or bring a 12-pack into the dorms. The RA or Residence Life Coordinator is going to call the police, and criminal charges will invariably follow.

Helping Parents Outside Of Central Pennsylvania

In addition to alumni parents, I deal with a lot of parents from major metropolitan areas or other parts of the country who are unfamiliar with rural Central Pennsylvania. A lot of times, these parents are astonished that the police would have the resources to file criminal charges over something trivial. Some parents even think that if I just rationalize with the police and explain that their son or daughter is a good kid, then maybe the police will not file charges. What you have to understand is that law enforcement priorities differ radically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Penn State has its own municipal police force. For about 40 nights a year, the Penn State police department is understaffed. Their busy times include home football weekends, concerts at the BJC, Arts Fest, graduation and other events. The rest of the year, they have more police than they need. Thus, if students are smoking marijuana in a dorm room on a Tuesday night, the Penn State police can afford to have two or three police officers tied up with such a trivial matter for three or four hours. In a place like Philadelphia, with “real crime,” the police could never waste their time on kids smoking marijuana in dorms.

There are cases in which an attorney can prevent minor charges from being filed against a Penn State student. For example, if multiple people are in a dorm room, the police may decide to charge only one student with possession of marijuana, drug paraphernalia or alcohol instead of everyone in the room, but they are usually going to charge someone, rather than just letting the matter go.

There May Be Consequences From The University

When charged with a crime in State College or on campus, your son or daughter may face disciplinary sanctions from Penn State, which can include a mere warning, probation, suspension or expulsion. Therefore, it is crucial to have an attorney who is familiar with the Penn State Office of Student Conduct. Sometimes a sanction can be lessened if the student is properly coached by an attorney and if we can present sufficient mitigating factors.

In most cases, we are able to resolve a student’s case at the disciplinary conference. If the assistant director or director of the Office of Student Conduct recommends probation, we are usually agreeable to such a sanction. In some cases, however, a hearing before the University Conduct Board is necessary. For example, if the alleged misconduct is of a very serious nature and the only available sanctions are suspension or expulsion, a hearing may be necessary. If the student denies the misconduct, then he can have his fate decided by the University Conduct Board, which is composed of faculty and staff. Although Penn State does not allow an attorney to represent a student at such a hearing, the attorney is normally allowed to be present, and the attorney’s coaching and preparation of the student for the hearing is crucial to success.

Call For A Free Initial Consultation

Attorney McClenahen prides himself on being available to clients and their parents outside of normal business hours, while most lawyers limit their availability from 9 to 5. The problem with the 9-to-5 approach is that people who can afford to hire an attorney usually have a job or own a business. Also, it is very stressful when your child is away at school and facing criminal charges. You may not want to wait until Monday morning to get an answer to your questions.

I understand the need for peace of mind, and I provide my cell phone number to all my clients and their parents. If I’m awake, I will answer the phone. You can also contact me by email 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and expect a prompt, detailed response to your questions. Please call me today at 814-308-0870 for a free initial consultation.