Criminal Issues for College Students. Part 1: Considering the Consequences Beyond College

By Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

Part 1 in a series of blogs on the unique exposure that college students face with regard to criminal charges and the potential impact of minor criminal charges on aspiring young professionals.

As a group, college students stand in one of the more perilous positions when it comes to both the potential for minor criminal charges and the future impact of a criminal conviction. On one hand, the college atmosphere can sometimes feel like an extended adolescence, and it is easy for students to feel as if they get a “pass” on certain criminal conduct in the safety of a college campus. On the other hand, most college students have reached legal adulthood and the effects of even the most minor criminal conviction will be felt long after college. With the investment of hard work and money that all college students are making in their own future, the stakes of even minor criminal charges are uniquely high for college students. Adding the role that alcohol often plays, college campuses are a breeding ground for trouble that can last a lifetime. This series of articles will explore this unique situation, some common ways in which college students often cross paths with the criminal justice system and how criminal cases involving college students must be approached from the right perspective by both attorneys and clients.

For more in-depth information, please don’t hesitate to talk to our York and Harrisburg criminal defense attorneys.

Part 1- The Long Term Effect of College Mistakes on Future Success
Although people attend school for many different reasons, it is probably safe to assume that anyone who puts forth the effort, money and time to go to college views life with an eye toward the future. Groundwork for future success in jobs, post-graduate education, military careers, and even volunteer opportunities is forged in the college years. A criminal charge can quickly unravel all of this, and that long-forgotten fine for a “minor” offense may surface years later to rob that person of hard earned opportunity. Put simply, there is no such thing as a “minor” criminal offense in today’s information age for those with an eye toward the future. For this reason, future young professionals must be mindful of some very important facts, particularly if currently facing criminal charges:

1. Even Minor Charges May be Permanent
Under current law in Pennsylvania, an adult convicted of a misdemeanor or felony as an adult has no option whatsoever to have that charge removed from a criminal record until that person turns 70, dies, or receives a pardon from the governor. Some charges graded as misdemeanors include the type that college students commonly find themselves facing: DUI, simple assault, marijuana possession, etc. What this means for the college student is simple: that youthful indiscretion may be stapled to every job application for the rest of your working life. Even summary offenses, such as disorderly conduct, public drunkenness or harassment, require 5 years arrest free to be expunged from the criminal record in Pennsylvania. At the very least, this means that a college student will likely have to seek his/her first post-college job with a huge black mark on the resume, and a potential disqualifier from many fields.

2. Your Future Profession May Have Higher Standards
For some, college is the path to a career that involves a professional license or certification, such as law enforcement, nursing, accounting, teaching, social work, or financial service. For others, it is a waypoint to post-graduate education, such as medical or law school. For some of these professions, there is nearly zero-tolerance for those with a criminal record. Some professional license applications even demand information about arrests leading to dismissal. Students on these career tracks are in a particularly vulnerable position, and one night of partying can quickly lead to disqualification from a dream career. Any student with this type of career goal, especially someone who currently faces a criminal charge, must to be aware of the future collateral consequences of criminal history.

3. Your Driving Privileges May be at Risk
If your goals are dependent on the ability to get to a job, internship, clinic, volunteer hours, etc., it is important to be aware that certain minor offenses in Pennsylvania may come at the cost of your driver’s license. Particularly at play for college students in Pennsylvania are the mandatory suspensions associated with conviction for underage consumption of alcohol or drug possession offenses. Any student whose future relies on the ability to drive, particularly anyone who is charged or cited with an offense in Pennsylvania, needs to be aware of these consequences.

4. Your Education Itself Could be at Risk
Depending on the policies of the college or university, students charged with or convicted of criminal offenses could be subject to disciplinary action, even for off campus conduct. This could include suspension or expulsion from the school or university. This type of discipline be reflected on future transcripts, and could make acceptance to another school to finish a degree, or acceptance to graduate school difficult. College students, particularly those already charged with criminal conduct, need to be aware of the potential for college discipline, apart from and in addition to any punishment the criminal justice system may impose.

If you are a student and you have been charged with a criminal offense, no matter how minor, you need an experienced attorney. Our attorneys can help you navigate and understand the effect of a criminal charge on your future, rather than simply focusing on the immediate consequences of the current case. Contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your future.

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