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Protecting The Rights of University and College Students After Notice of a College Code of Conduct Violation

New Haven criminal law attorney

Every college and university has a Code of Conduct, usually included in a student handbook, which tells students how they are expected to behave on campus and what types of behaviors are forbidden. If students violate the code of conduct, they may be charged with violations of the code and brought before the college disciplinary board.  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[1] need not be as detailed as a criminal code which imposes criminal sanctions.” 

Notification of a Potential Violation

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.  It is important to speak to experienced college code of conduct defense attorneys at Duffy Law before this process begins so that they can assist during the fact-finding inquiry by presenting the school with evidence, witnesses and mitigating circumstances that may influence whether a violation is found and the severity of the potential penalties.  A student admitting to a violation of the Student Code of Conduct or being found “responsible” for the charged conduct by an administrator or 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.

Penalties for Code Violations

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.

Code of Conduct Defense Attorney as Advisor

A student is sometimes allowed to retain a code of conduct defense attorney to act as an “advisor” during a college disciplinary hearing.  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. The attorney can help the student prepare a statement and respond to questions at the hearing as well as explain the rules and procedures used during the disciplinary hearings.  It should be noted, however, that some institutions are operated by corporations in contrast to those operated by state or local government, and that those private institutions have no constitutional obligations to their students or professors.  A private university[2], therefore, can sometimes prohibit an accused student from bringing an attorney to a disciplinary committee meeting.

Call a National Code of Conduct Defense Lawyer

If you have been accused of violating the terms of a school code of conduct, it is important that you speak to a national code of conduct defense lawyer as soon as possible. The attorneys at Duffy Law are experienced in assisting college students present a defense and protect their rights.  Call Duffy Law today at 203-946-2000 to discuss the specifics of your case.


[1] https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/469/325
[2]  http://www.rbs2.com/eatty.pdf

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