New sexual assault bill could leave more NJ students facing charges

A new bill that would require New Jersey colleges to report alleged sexual assaults to local authorities could lead to more charges against students.

Most college students in Hackensack have ambitious plans and high expectations for life after graduation. Sadly, when a student is accused of criminal activity such as sex crimes, the immediate and long-term consequences can be devastating, regardless of whether the student is ever convicted of the crime in question. A new bill, which would change reporting guidelines for alleged college sexual assaults, could leave many more students facing these harsh consequences.

Mandatory reporting

NJTV reports that a New Jersey senator has recently introduced three bills that would change the way colleges respond to alleged sexual assaults. One of these bills requires that the college notify local prosecutors within 24 hours of receiving a report of alleged assault. Currently, colleges are not legally required to notify authorities or make reports within a set timeframe.

Often, colleges use their discretion and handle these allegations within their own disciplinary systems, according to the Boston Globe. Students who are accused of sexual assault may face serious consequences based on school sanctions alone, including:

  • Disrupted educations due to suspension or expulsion
  • Damage to personal reputation
  • Financial loss associated with lost tuition, costs of seeking legal representation and related expenses

If reporting alleged assaults to local authorities becomes mandatory for colleges, students could also face more serious consequences. Under Title 2C of New Jersey state law, sexual assault is a second degree crime. A conviction of a second degree crime can result in 5 to 10 years in prison, according to the New Jersey Courts website.

Burdens of proof

Compared to the judicial system, colleges often use a less strict standard of evidence when determining whether a student is guilty of an alleged offense. According to the Boston Globe, the U.S. Department of Education allows colleges to show that a preponderance of evidence supports the allegations, rather than proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused student is guilty.

This means many students who face sanctions from their colleges may not be found guilty in criminal proceedings. Still, even accusations that don't result in a conviction can have lasting effects. Unfortunately, given the nature of many alleged sexual assaults, the proposed legal changes could leave many innocent students facing these harsh consequences.

Ambiguous incidents

The Boston Globe notes that many sexual assault cases involve limited evidence or witnesses who may not be credible. Alleged incidents often occur when one or both parties have been consuming alcohol or other substances, resulting in inaccurate memories. Additionally, many alleged assaults may occur between friends, couples or ex-partners, further complicating the situation.

All of these factors can make proving that sexual assault charges are unfounded extremely difficult. Considering the nature of these charges, and the various life-long consequences that can come with a conviction, anyone facing accusations of sexual assault should contact a defense attorney as soon as possible.

Keywords: sex crime, arrest, charge