Sexual Assault and Rape
Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault, and colleges and universities are increasingly being held to account for crimes committed in school or on campus. Sexual assault covers all unwanted sexual contact, whereas rape includes forced sexual intercourse with an individual, intercourse with an individual who is incapable of consent, or purposefully drugging someone for the purpose of getting them to submit to intercourse. A person is deemed incapable of consenting if they are too intoxicated, asleep, mentally disabled, or otherwise unable to give consent.
Some colleges also allow consent to be retroactively withdrawn. Importantly, if the person accused of the assault was intoxicated, they cannot use their own intoxication as a defense or to mitigate what happened.
Allegations of rape or sexual assault on college campuses can be handled by the school, by the police or prosecutor’s office, or by both. A student can file a complaint internally with the college seeking disciplinary action against you, they could contact the police and seek criminal charges, or they could do both.
Penalties for sex related crimes can be extensive and life altering. If convicted of rape, you face up to twenty years in state prison, will be required to register as a sex offender on the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board, and wear a GPS bracelet while on probation. You may also face financial consequences that may continue to impact you long after your settlement or sentence is complete.
Our Advice: If there is even the slightest question about whether a person has had too much to drink or is high on drugs, do not engage in any sexual contact with that person. There’s no such thing as consensual sex if there’s even a drop of alcohol involved.
Whether you’re being questioned by a police officer or a school investigator, respectfully decline to answer any questions until you’ve had a chance to speak with an attorney. Anything you say can, and will, be used in a criminal case against you.
*We understand how traumatizing sexual assault is for victims. For students who have been victims of rape or sexual assault, it’s important to remember that resources exist both on campus and in the community, and you should immediately seek out those resources and report the crime to law enforcement.
Hazing and Bullying
What was once considered an accepted rite of passage on college campuses is increasingly being recognized as criminal hazing. Massachusetts defines hazing as, “any conduct or method of initiation into any student organization, whether on public or private property, which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person.” Students should note that even if the victim gave consent to the behavior, in Massachusetts that is not a defense and individuals perpetrating the hazing can be held criminally responsible.
Another form of bullying involves reckless or defamatory online behavior. Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to harass and allows students to be far removed from the individual when they’re doing it. Cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, and online hate speech or discriminatory language is now squarely in the crosshairs of law enforcement and campus authorities, even if this conduct occurs outside of school.
A subset of this criminal online behavior includes sexting and exchanging explicit images if any of the parties involved are underage. Some college relationships involve couples where one or both individuals are still legally underage, and we encourage all students to be vigilant. Even if the exchange is with your girlfriend or boyfriend, it is considered child pornography and this type of crime carries hefty fines and lengthy jail time.
Students should also keep in mind that schools have the right to monitor a student’s online activity, possibly also email, and act accordingly. Everything put online is out there forever and you might not want to be answering questions about abusive or irresponsible social media use at future job interviews.
Our Advice: Do not do anything online that you would not do in person. If you are faced with an investigation or charges related to hazing or bullying, call an experienced defense attorney to protect your rights.
The legal drinking age across the U.S. is 21 but we all know that college kids experiment with alcohol whether or not they have reached this milestone. While it might seem like it’s “not a big deal,” underage drinking is an arrestable offense and will usually also be reported to the school.
Whether you’re pre-gaming, partying in the dorm, or drinking at a bar, if you are under 21, being in possession of alcohol is punishable by a $150 fine and a 90-day driver’s license suspension.
While it’s inconvenient to lose your license for three months, the bigger concern is keeping this charge off your criminal record. A conviction will follow you for the rest of your life. A charge for underaged drinking shows up as an MIP (Minor in Possession of Alcohol) on your record and can stay there if you don’t get the charge dismissed, even if you’re found not guilty. Even if you are not convicted, the fact that you were charged will be annotated on your record.
Most schools also have their own rules around underage drinking and/or keeping alcohol in dorms and activities that are thought to lead to excess consumption of alcohol, such as kegs, drinking games, etc. We urge you to become familiar with your school’s policies and procedures around alcohol consumption as well as your rights when it comes to searching your premises.
Our Advice: Wait to party until you’re 21. If you are caught drinking underage, call an experienced defense attorney right away to protect your legal rights. Do not try to handle a case like this on your own.
Possession or Selling of Drugs
In Massachusetts, a student 21 or over can have up to 1 ounce of marijuana on their person and up to 10 ounces at home. However, because of the disconnect between state and federal law, most colleges have strict policies regarding marijuana use so if you are living on campus, you could be suspended or expelled for possessing or smoking marijuana in your dorm. In addition, you could lose your financial aid because federal FAFSA forms require disclosure of drug-related convictions.
While possession and use of marijuana for persons 21 and over is legal in the state, selling marijuana is not. On or off campus, you can and will be prosecuted for selling even small amounts of marijuana. Charges for distribution or intent to distribute are frequently felonies punishable by much harsher sentences. Students should be aware that these charges can arise from acts they think are otherwise relatively innocuous such as giving marijuana to a minor, selling marijuana paraphernalia, like pipes or bongs, to someone under 21, and hosting a party with marijuana for underage friends. These offenses could land a college student with a criminal record, fines, and/or jail time.
As always, drugs such as cocaine, opiates, heroin, ecstasy, and ketamine remain illegal across the country, and you will be prosecuted if you possess them.
Our Advice: Do not possess or use marijuana if you’re under 21, and once over 21, never share it with a group of friends. And pay close attention to your school’s specific rules for marijuana usage. If you are being investigated for possession or distribution of drugs, call an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
As mentioned, college kids are known to experiment with alcohol and often try to use fake IDs to buy alcohol or gain entry to bars. Understand that the police know it’s happening and are actively on the lookout for students using fake IDs. If you are convicted of Possession of a Fake ID, you face a $200 fine and up to three months in jail, and will lose your driver’s license for six months. While it is possible you would just receive a fine, you will now have a criminal record – for life!
It may be tempting and all too easy to get a fake driver’s license, but using any sort of false identification is against the law. It’s also illegal for you to use someone else’s real, legitimate ID as your own. The law will not just punish you for the underage drinking you’re using the ID for; even simply possessing the ID is against the law. These days, using a fake ID can also be punishable under laws applied to identity theft, which carry much harsher penalties.
Our Advice: Do not use a fake ID. But if you are caught using a fake ID, contact an attorney right away to see if you can avoid a criminal record.
Operating Under the Influence
Impaired drivers often think that they are less impaired than they are, or that they are close enough to their destination that they can “make it” there on their own but Operating Under the Influence (OUI) in the state of Massachusetts is considered a serious crime.
If you are pulled over and suspected of operating under the influence, the officer at the scene will ask you if you’ve been drinking and if you reply yes, even if it’s only one drink, you may be arrested at the scene. The officer may also ask you to do a breathalyzer test and/or complete a field sobriety test. Regardless of whether you are, in fact, under the influence, you may be confused or stressed about what these tests could mean for your particular situation. If you refuse, your license could be suspended. If you agree, and fail, you will be arrested, and the results of the test will be used against you in court.
Whether or not to agree to take the test is a weighty decision but you should know your options and understand the different legal implications of those options. We strongly recommend consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are suspected of operating under the influence.
Our Advice: If you are arrested, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Invoke your rights! Contact an experienced OUI attorney immediately before making any statements to the police.
We encourage all students to be aware of the serious liability and potentially wide-ranging consequences that come with hosting parties where either or both alcohol and minors are present. Noise complaints, underage drinking, serious accidents, sexual assault, drinking and driving, and other nuisance and/or criminal activity can result from impaired judgment during an out-of-control house party. Remember that providing alcohol to underage friends can carry serious legal consequences, particularly if it results in a motor vehicle or other accident.
Our Advice: Enjoy your downtime with friends but refrain from hosting any large gatherings when you are reasonably certain that drugs and/or alcohol will be present. If you are questioned by the police about events that took place at your house, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
Contact Us for Experienced Criminal Defense
Vincent A. Tofani heads Parker Scheer’s Criminal Defense practice and has successfully represented hundreds of individuals charged with OUIs and other criminal offenses in courts throughout Massachusetts. He has obtained “not guilty” verdicts in over 75% of the cases taken to trial. While every case involves unique facts and circumstances, attorney Tofani has the skill and the experience to provide you with the very best chance of obtaining a favorable result.
If you are a college student and find yourself facing potentially life-altering criminal charges, call Vincent Tofani at 617- 241- 4244 immediately.