College Student Arrests on Winter Break: What to do if it Happens to You or Your Child in NJ

winter break

College students have a hard enough time when they are at school trying to study and navigate living on their own for the first time, so it’s to be expected that they will want to relax and “let loose” when they return home for winter break. But sometimes things can go terribly wrong, and the student on break who was just looking to have a good time ends up getting into trouble with the law. The reality is that college student arrests and charges on winter break are very common, and many parents in New Jersey have found themselves in the position of needing to hire a lawyer for their son or daughter during the holidays.

Learn more about college student arrests on winter break, including how to effectively deal with the difficult legal situation here. And if this happens to you or your child anywhere in Middlesex County, in towns such as Edison, New Brunswick, East Brunswick, South Brunswick, Piscataway, Woodbridge, and surrounding areas, contact us for a free consultation with a criminal defense lawyer handling exclusively criminal and DWI cases who can help. Call (732) 659-9600 anytime to discuss your case and explore your defense options to prevent permanently impact your life.

Why do College Kids often get Arrested During Winter Break in New Jersey?

Most colleges are not in session year-round. Rather, there is a gap between semesters, with students finishing the fall semester and then having the opportunity to return home for the winter break period. In fact, many colleges require students to leave campus during winter break. This means that most students – especially freshmen and sophomores – who are attending school out of state will be returning home to New Jersey for some time off before the academic year resumes with the spring semester. Unfortunately, young adults with a lot of time on their hands can get into quite a bit of trouble. Even if they are on their best behavior, a single mistake can still lead to disastrous consequences that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Some of the common reasons a student might run into trouble while home for winter break involve alcohol, drugs, and violence.

For one, alcohol is often involved in winter break arrests, as young adults who are temporarily home from college may feel as though they are fully grown adults who have earned the right to drink a beer or two. Of course, in the eyes of the law, it is still very much illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase, possess, or consume alcohol. Depending on how old your son or daughter is, it’s very possible that they could be arrested and charged with an adult offense for underage possession of alcohol. A large percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 21 drink alcohol at some point, and if they are unlucky enough to be caught by police while drinking, they may be subject to severe penalties. As set forth by N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15, underage possession and/or consumption of alcohol in New Jersey is a disorderly persons offense, and it comes with possible penalties that include jail time and driver’s license suspension.

While alcohol consumption is certainly popular among college students, drug use is also a problem. Even with attitudes towards drugs shifting over time, and NJ lawmakers passing a historic law to legalize marijuana possession in the state, police and prosecutors are still highly focused on stopping illegal drug use. Cocaine, LSD, heroin, MDMA (Molly), and methamphetamine are probably the most serious illegal narcotics that may be used by young adults. In recent years, prescription drug abuse has also become rampant among both adults and young people in New Jersey. If your son or daughter is caught with a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), they could be arrested and charged with a drug possession offense. In many cases, this offense is classified as a felony, which means that the range of penalties includes a sentence to substantial prison time and becoming a convicted felon.

Then there’s the range of criminal charges related to violence. Even if the student is not ordinarily a violent person, they may still be put in situations where violence occurs. Sometimes, it’s because alcohol was involved, leading to bad decisions that culminate in physical aggression. Other times, it’s because they were in proximity to other people who got into a fight or brawl, and the police simply arrested and charged whoever they could apprehend at the scene. Depending on the circumstances, your son or daughter could be charged with simple assault, which is classified as a disorderly persons offense and carries a penalty of up to six (6) months in jail. If there was any sort of physical contact during the altercation and the other person suffered an injury, a simple assault charge may be deemed appropriate by the prosecutor. If there were no injuries sustained during the altercation, however, then your child may instead face charges for disorderly conduct. This is a petty disorderly persons offense, and it carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail. In either case, a conviction or guilty plea will result in a criminal record.

What Happens If You Get Arrested while on Winter Break in NJ?

The juvenile justice system in New Jersey is designed to encourage youth offenders to rehabilitate and get back on the right track. As such, a minor who is arrested for a juvenile offense is likely to avoid the more traditional legal process and instead have their case handled in the juvenile courts. Since most college students are over the age of 18, however, it is important to understand that they can be criminally charged as adults. This means that the case will be handled in either the local Municipal Court for minor criminal offenses, DWI charges, and others, or the county Superior Court for more serious felony crimes of the first, second, third, or fourth degree.

Being charged as an adult, instead of being charged as a juvenile, makes a huge difference in terms of the penalties. Additionally, there are long-term consequences for a college student who is arrested and subsequently convicted of a crime because they will be left with a criminal record, which could follow them for the rest of their lives when they want to get a job, apply to grad school, buy a house, or secure a student loan.

College Disciplinary Action for Charges on Breaks between Semesters

Not only could your child face criminal consequences if they are arrested over winter break, but they might also be subject to disciplinary action by their university when they return to school. Some colleges have rules about off-campus behavior, with students being held to a high standard for as long as they are enrolled in the school. Depending on the outcome of the criminal proceedings, your son or daughter may have to deal with a college disciplinary hearing as well. A conviction or guilty plea for a minor offense could result in the college putting the student on probation or suspending them, while a conviction or guilty plea for a more serious crime involving violence or drugs could result in the loss of financial aid or even expulsion.

How an Attorney can Help if Your Child has been Arrested over College Break in Middlesex County and across New Jersey

Ultimately, you need to protect yourself or your son or daughter in the event of being arrested while on college winter break. Get legal counsel and start building your best defense by contacting our criminal defense firm in Middlesex County at (732) 659-9600. Whether it be an assault charge, DWI, resisting arrest, drug possession or distribution, or another offense for which your college student is facing charges, we’re on your side. Contact us right away if you would like a free consultation.

William Proetta

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.