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Virtually every college and university in the U.S. has a code of conduct that applies to its student body. This code is usually included in a student handbook and tells students how they are expected to behave on campus and what types of behaviors are forbidden.
While not having the force of law, a school’s code of conduct subjects students to various sanctions if they violate its terms. Generally speaking, if you are accused of violating the code of conduct, you will receive a notice of a disciplinary violation and may be called before a hearing committee. Unfortunately, the rights afforded to you in the disciplinary process are often weak and arbitrary. Schools are free to run their campus judicial systems using standards of due process, evidence, and confidentiality far below even the minimum standards that apply in either federal or state judicial venues.
You have likely invested years of hard work and tens of thousands of dollars into your education and being found responsible for violating your college or university’s code of conduct can result in serious repercussions that can affect your personal and professional life for years because the violations can become part of your permanent academic record. Too often, college students do not recognize the severity of a code of conduct violation and you may think you can handle the allegations yourself. You may also feel embarrassment or shame and do not want your friends and family to find out and, therefore, decide not to consult with an attorney.
As a college student, you may not be aware that anything you say or do can be used in the school’s investigation and also may be used against you in future criminal proceedings. An experienced student defense attorney can advise you confidentially from the beginning and help you navigate your institution’s specific policies, practices, rules, and regulations to make sure you’re getting the maximum benefit of whatever rights your school does afford you, and to minimize the impact of any allegations and findings. Being extremely well prepared before you answer any charge in writing or verbally or appear at any hearing is the key to your successful defense. An attorney can be a great asset in achieving a positive outcome, assisting the student in preparing a witness list, preparing questions for those witnesses, and presenting favorable evidence or evidence in mitigation.
Do not underestimate the complexity of the hearing process
Many students and their parents are under the mistaken impression that a disciplinary hearing conducted by an educational institution is a mere formality and a way to put a student through an uncomfortable proceeding that is intended to be a punishment in itself. In reality, disciplinary hearings at colleges and universities are often legitimate fact-finding proceedings that are subject to complicated procedural and substantive rules. Furthermore, the outcomes of disciplinary hearings can have a significant impact on a student’s academic and professional life for years to come. For this reason, it is critical that you do not underestimate the complexity of the hearing process and to go into it with as much information and assistance as possible.
What if a school prohibits the involvement of attorneys or non-school personnel at a hearing, interview, or meeting?
Some educational institutions may not allow attorneys or other non-school personnel to attend a hearing, interview, or meeting involving an alleged disciplinary violation. If you find yourself or your child in this situation, you may feel helpless and uncertain about how to proceed. It is important to keep in mind that the fact that an attorney cannot attend a particular proceeding does not mean an attorney cannot be of assistance. An attorney familiar with college code violation proceedings may be able to help students and their parents in a number of ways, including the following:
- Investigate the case and determine whether there is any evidence that tends to strengthen a student’s argument that there was no violation
- Explain the disciplinary process to students and parents
- Advise students and their parents about the possible outcomes of the case
- Determine whether the school is in violation of its own rules or any applicable state or federal laws
- Prepare students for the types of questions they may need to answer
Simply assuming that the truth is on your side or that the school is just trying to slap a student on the wrist by conducting a hearing is a mistake that could have far-reaching and long-term professional consequences. For this reason, it is important to consult with a lawyer about your options, even if the institution alleging a code violation does not allow lawyers to be involved in the hearing process.
Allegations of sexual harassment and assault are particularly serious
Allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault that implicate Title IX are of special concern to colleges and universities around the country, especially in light of high-profile cases and social commentary regarding a permissive attitude toward “rape culture” on campus. As a result, when these types of allegations are leveled against a student, the educational institution is under tremendous pressure to deal with the case as quickly as possible, as failure to do so could have a significant and adverse impact on its national reputation. In addition, swift and decisive action regarding allegations of sexual misconduct may dissuade others from engaging in questionable conduct, further incentivizing colleges and universities to deal with these kinds of cases quickly and judiciously.
While the desire to handle Title IX violations quickly may be well-intentioned and understandable, the unfortunate reality is that doing so can often result in hastily prepared and incomplete investigations and hearings. For this reason, it is critical for anyone accused of sexual misconduct by a college or university to retain an attorney familiar with representing college students involved in these kinds of cases.
Importantly, the outcome of a sexual misconduct case conducted by a college or university may also result in criminal consequences. As a result, students accused of sexual violations often face suspension or expulsion and may also face jail time and a criminal conviction that could potentially affect them for the rest of their lives.
Common code of conduct allegations
Student conduct code violations often involve issues such as:
While some of these violations are clearly less serious than others, if you are accused of any conduct code violations, it is important to discuss your options with an experienced attorney as early as possible.
At Duffy Law, our highly experienced Conduct Code lawyers understand the issues facing college students and stand ready to defend you against any type of alleged college conduct violation. Call Duffy Law, LLC today at 203-946-2000 to schedule a confidential consultation.
What does the college disciplinary process look like?
When the university becomes aware that a student has been cited or charged with a crime, the school will inform the student of the potential violation of the student code of conduct and begin a fact-finding inquiry. That inquiry involves gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses to determine whether the student’s behavior constituted a violation of the code of conduct. A student admitting to a violation of the Student Code of Conduct or being found “responsible” for the charged conduct by an administrator or disciplinary board may prevent the student from being admitted to an alternate college or university. Additionally, statements made to university administrators and hearing boards can be used by law enforcement against the student in a criminal prosecution making it important to speak to your attorney before making any statements to the school or signing any documents regarding your alleged conduct.
What are the possible sanctions your college or university may impose?
If your college or university’s hearing board determines that you did, in fact, violate your school’s student code of conduct, there are a number of sanctions that it could potentially impose. In relatively minor cases involving underage drinking or minor drug offenses, potential consequences for a student code of conduct violation can include formal reprimand, probation or community service. In more serious cases involving violent crimes such as sexual assault, the penalty could include dismissal from the student dorms, school suspension or expulsion.
A college disciplinary hearing can only deprive a student of property (i.e. in the form of expulsion which causes a forfeiture of tuition). Because this varies from the criminal system of justice, where an individual can be punished with a loss of liberty, there are many more procedural protections for a criminal defendant versus accused students involved in a disciplinary proceeding. This premise is reflected in the case of New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. at 340, which provides that “school disciplinary rules need not be as detailed as a criminal code which imposes criminal sanctions.”
However, the consequences of a student code of conduct violation are not limited to those imposed by an educational institution. In many cases, there also may be a criminal case that arises from the same incident, meaning that the state may also impose its own criminal sanctions against you. A criminal conviction can adversely affect your freedom, finances, and future.
Helping victims of code violations on college campuses
In addition to individuals facing accusations, the victims of any offenses that took place on college campuses are also afforded certain rights to ensure their safety and well-being during and after the hearing process.
Contact a National College Code of Conduct Violations Lawyer To Begin Protecting Your Rights
With so much at stake, it is critical for students who are accused of conduct code violations to do everything possible to resolve their case as favorably as possible. The representation of an attorney will ensure that you are treated fairly by the hearing board and that any parallel criminal prosecution that may exist is also resolved. It is important for you to remember that, although academic disciplinary proceedings do not occur in a court, you still have significant rights that may not be upheld without the assistance of legal counsel. For this reason, if you are accused of a code of conduct violation, you should retain legal counsel immediately. Call Duffy Law, LLC at 203-946-2000 today to schedule a consultation.