If you or a loved one is facing an alleged violation of a school's code of conduct regulations about computer crimes or cybercrimes, you may be worried or concerned about what that means. You might not have even been aware that the alleged actions were in violation. Unfortunately, when you first matriculate at a college or university, your school usually provides you with a student handbook or a code of conduct. By receiving this code of conduct, you agree to follow the regulations listed in the document—whether or not you take the time to read through it.
Although the phrase “code of conduct” may remind you of policies that involve academic honesty, or maybe alcohol-related policies, in fact, the policies are usually much more extensive than that. Much like local, state, and federal laws, a code of conduct delineates what's allowed and what's prohibited. Colleges and universities design the code of conduct as a way to describe behavior standards, procedures for how to handle violations, and penalties when violations occur.
Student codes of conduct are not laws; however, it is important that you take the allegations of a cybercrime violation seriously. Violations can become a part of your permanent record and affect your college and professional life.
What Might Be an Example of a Computer Crime or Cybercrime Code of Conduct Violation?
Computer crimes, sometimes referred to as cybercrimes, cover a wide range of behaviors. In all likelihood, the phrasing in your university or college's handbook says something like “may include but is not limited to.” Here's a brief overview of a few examples so you can get an idea of what your school might classify as a computer crime.
- Hacking: Hacking is perhaps one of the ideas that first comes to mind if someone is thinking about what falls under cybercrimes. Shows like CSI: Cyber, and Arrow, have built up ideas around what hacking looks like. In reality though, most often, the cybercrimes that schools address fall into less riveting areas than the TV shows, unless the hacking is tied to email access or test/assignment access.
- Cyberstalking: Often cyberstalking intersects with other potential code of conduct violations, such as Title IX violations or college sexual misconduct violations.
- Visiting unauthorized websites: When you access the school's network, you agree to its Terms of Service. Everyone is so used to just agreeing to them without reading them, with all of the apps we use on our smartphones and the like. However, if you access a website that goes against the Terms of Service, the school may find you in violation of the code of conduct.
Different Standards at Your University or College
One thing to be aware of regarding an alleged computer crime code of conduct violation is that the proceedings at your school will most likely not have the same protections that a legal proceeding might. What does that actually look like in action? Well, one example is that you don't have the same rights as you do when you're facing charges from the government. This is part of why it's so critical to have an attorney-advisor who can advocate on your behalf.
Often the standard of proof that disciplinary hearings follow is the “preponderance of the evidence” standard rather than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. The “preponderance of the evidence” standard means that it's more than 50% likely that the alleged behavior took place. The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is much higher and, therefore, more protective of your rights.
In addition to a lower standard of proof, many colleges and universities also have looser regulations around what evidence they will allow. Hearsay, which is not admissible in a criminal case, is often accepted at school disciplinary proceedings. By admitting hearsay, the school allows unreliable information to contribute to the outcome of your case.
Sanctions and Collateral Consequences of Computer Crime Violations
Each school has a variety of consequences associated with computer crime violations. Some of them are milder than others, but many of them are very serious. Even a lesser sanction such as a formal reprimand on your permanent academic record could greatly reduce your chances of acceptance into a graduate school program, such as law school or medical school. Graduate programs are very competitive and require immense preparation for MCATs, GREs, LSATs, and other standardized tests. With so much pressure and work to get accepted, the last thing you need is something that weakens your chances to get into the program of your dreams.
Additionally, the mark on your permanent academic record could reflect poorly on you when you try to apply for employment. Cybercrimes especially could impact an ability to obtain necessary clearance for certain types of jobs. If the school determines that you are guilty of the alleged behavior, then your future could be at risk.
As far as sanctions the hearing board or committee might select, sanctions generally may include:
- Formal reprimand;
- If the cybercrime is connected to cheating, your grades could be adjusted.
- 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;
Each university or college has its own set of penalties, and your own school's code of conduct is the best place to verify what the potential sanctions may be. If you're currently facing allegations, your best approach would be to look closely at what your documents say. Although you may have a paper copy, the online version is most likely the easiest way to find the parameters. The code of conduct will outline the proceedings and the sanctions that your school might consider.
An Expert Attorney-Advisor to Fight for Your Rights
With so much at stake, it's critical that you find an attorney-advisor who understands how to navigate the unique proceeding at your university or college. An experienced attorney-advisor can help protect your future and ensure you have the best possible outcome. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have unparalleled experience assisting students and their families across the nation with similar code of conduct cases. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888.535.3686 or reach out online to learn more about how he can help you.