For years, college life and parties have been synonymous. Whether it's the newfound freedom freshmen experience as they're away from home, or the seniors, celebrating their soon-to-be graduation, parties—and the accompanying alcohol—are a staple of college living. Frequently, even if an under-21 student is not drinking, they are still in circumstances where there is alcohol around them. Subsequently, the risk of being reprimanded for alcohol possession or distribution is high, with significant ramifications.
Some colleges (for example, those in Pennsylvania) also have rules they follow, such as ‘constructive possession.' Constructive possession occurs when an item such as alcohol is not found on your person but is found nearby. Allegations of alcohol possession or distribution can severely impact your college career and potentially your post-college future. How would this happen? Well, it's important that you understand that if you are found guilty of violating the code of conduct, it could potentially become a part of your permanent academic record. Future employers and schools will examine your academic record as you look for work or apply to graduate schools. A knowledgeable attorney-advisor can help you navigate the school disciplinary proceedings in a way that protects both your rights and your future.
Do You Know Your Rights?
Each college or university has its own code of conduct or student handbook guidelines that determine what behaviors are not tolerated, the process for investigating said behaviors, and the possible sanctions (or consequences). Generally speaking, most college and university codes of conduct contain guidelines that restrict the possession and distribution of alcohol among the student body. Usually, these regulations apply to both on-campus and off-campus behavior, including rules about drinking in dorm rooms, providing alcohol to underage students, and drinking on campus property. Frequently the codes of conduct also consider breaking a federal, state, or local law to be a violation of the student code.
The thing to remember, however, is that while you may have broken a state, federal, or local law, the violation your university or college is investigating is one of the code of conduct. Practically speaking, that means that your disciplinary hearing will not be one that takes place in a courtroom. Federal and state laws guarantee certain standards of evidence as well as the right to representation, due process, and so forth. A school hearing does not guarantee any of these things. For example, the evidence-gathering for a disciplinary hearing may possibly include hearsay. The weaker requirements can potentially damage your case. These seemingly small differences are actually very significant and can make the difference between an allegation being dismissed or an allegation becoming part of your permanent academic record.
Alcohol Violations Can Have Severe Consequences
Each college and university will outline the sanctions associated with breaking their code of conduct, so it's critical that you look through your student handbook or your code of conduct. Often, students just toss it aside when they begin at a school; however, they are still bound by its regulations, processes, and sanctions. If your school determines that you are guilty of breaking the code of conduct, the penalties will probably depend on the severity of the allegation. When you're looking to see what your possible sanctions might be, you can most likely browse through it online, making a search easy. Look for keywords like “Sanction” or “Penalty” using either CTRL+F or Command+F. That will help you find the specifics for your university or college.
Some general sanctions that are often on the table include:
- Mandatory alcohol education workshop or seminar;
- Fines related to alcohol violations;
- Formal reprimand;
- Disciplinary probation, which may impact your ability to participate in any extracurricular activities at the school;
- Loss of financial aid in the form of scholarships or loans;
- Loss of housing, especially if you were using campus housing;
You can see that the range of possible direct consequences varies from mild to more severe. Some of them are cascading as well, so if you are at school on an athletic scholarship and put on probation, you may not be able to participate in your chosen sport. This could jeopardize your scholarship.
Beyond the consequences that your university or school might select, an alcohol possession or distribution violation could drastically impact your ability to get into a graduate program, such as applying for medical school or law school. Admissions to graduate programs are highly competitive, and as such, anything that takes away from the strength of your application could have huge ramifications.
Can an Attorney-Advisor Help Me with the Hearing Process?
Most colleges and universities allow for an advisor to assist with the disciplinary proceedings. However, some specify that this advisor must be someone from within the school. Does it still make sense to work with an attorney-advisor if your school won't allow them to participate in the actual hearing? The answer is yes.
You've likely invested years of effort and work, as well as significant financial resources in tuition and other costs. Although an attorney-advisor may not be able to accompany you into the actual hearing, there are many ways that they can still assist you and your case. First and foremost, they can help with the case and identify courses of action that will strengthen your argument that you aren't in violation. Secondly, they can more easily identify instances where the school is violating either its own rules, or federal or state laws. In addition, an attorney-advisor can also potentially engage in negotiations with appropriate parties at the school, such as conduct administrators, the dean, and the school's Office of General Counsel (the school's attorneys). Such negotiations, when appropriate to the circumstances, could potentially allow for a more reasonable outcome.
Even if they're unable to join you at the hearing, there are many other ways in which an attorney-advisor can help advocate for you.
Call an Experienced Attorney-Advisor Today
Both alcohol possession and distribution can be serious allegations at your college or university. The disciplinary process is designed to protect the school, not you, and so it's critical that you have an expert who understands how code of conduct hearings proceed. Attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have helped thousands of students at schools across the nation face and defeat conduct allegations. Their experienced and expertise inform the strategies they develop to ensure you receive the best possible outcome. Don't let your future be at risk; find the best attorney-advisor possible to help with your proceedings. Call 888.535.3686 or contact them online to discuss the circumstances of your situation. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help.