You may think calculus is the most difficult challenge you're likely to face in college. It turns out, a code of conduct violation can be tougher. For one thing, the stakes are higher. Sure, fail your calculus final, and you'll probably be taking the course again next semester. Lose a code of conduct hearing, though, and you could find yourself suspended or even expelled.
Schools don't always make it easy to defend yourself either. Campus judicial systems are notoriously difficult to navigate, and you won't have the same rights you'd have if you were in an actual court of law.
If you should find yourself among the hundreds of Colorado students who are accused each year, it's important you know exactly what your university's code of conduct has to say. Only when you know the system can you possibly hope to take it on.
Equally as important, though, you need to know how to get help defending yourself. Your entire future is at stake. You can't handle a code of conduct case all on your own.
Three Kinds of Conduct Issues
It's important you recognize that all colleges and universities take their own individual approach to disciplinary matters. What counts as a serious offense at one school, for instance, may be nothing more than a minor infraction at another. The only way to know how your school operates is to look closely at its Student Code of Conduct.
That said, there are a number of commonalities in the way most Colorado schools work. Among these, schools almost always separate student misconduct into three broad categories: academic, disciplinary, and sexual.
As you might expect, academics are at the heart of what every college and university in Colorado does. No school can survive for long if it has a reputation for educational dishonesty. As a result, all schools maintain strict rules about classroom behavior. Most policies focus on cheating, plagiarism, and general dishonesty.
Typically, instructors have primary authority when it comes to identifying and punishing violations. Possible sanctions can include anything from a written warning or a makeup assignment to a lower score on the assignment or a lower grade in the course.
In addition, most schools require instructors to report all instances of academic misconduct. That way, the administration can issue stricter penalties for repeat offenders.
Of course, disciplinary misconduct refers to behaviors outside the classroom. Here again, while schools differ when it comes to specifics, most agree when it comes to the most serious kinds of offenses.
· Residential violations: If you live on campus, you'll be subject to specific rules about what you can and can't do in your dorm room or apartment. This can include anything from prohibitions against noise to bans on removing window screens.
· Underage drinking: All Colorado schools have serious policies against underage drinking. In addition, some have restrictions on campus alcohol use generally.
· Drug possession: While Colorado has legalized marijuana usage under Amendment 64, cannabis possession is still illegal under federal law. As a result, all universities that receive federal funding of any kind ban its use.
· Hazing: Here again, the law is clear: Colorado Title 18. Criminal Code § 18-9-124 states outlaws hazing, noting that it frequently “degenerates into a dangerous form of intimidation and degradation” that “may threaten the health of students or, if not stopped early enough, may escalate into serious injury.” If it is against the law, you can expect that no college or university will sanction it.
· Hate crimes: Hate crimes too are outlawed under federal law. In fact, most colleges and universities go even further than the law in banning and punishing hate speech and harassment.
Finally, all Colorado schools have strict policies regarding all forms of sexual misconduct, from simple verbal harassment to stalking, sexual assault, and rape. Technically, such offenses should be covered under a school's general disciplinary policy. However, most sexually based misconduct is subject to federal law under Title IX. Not only does Title IX restrict sexual discrimination and harassment on campus, but it prescribes precisely how schools must handle allegations. As a result, these violations are typically treated as their own specific type of policy violation.
Under Title IX:
· Your university must have a Title IX Coordinator who receives all accusations and decides whether or not to pursue them.
· Once a Coordinator signs an official complaint against you, you must be notified of the charges and of all your due process rights under the law.
· All accused students are entitled to choose an advisor who may be an attorney.
· Allegations are investigated by a Title IX Investigator, who interviews both parties and collects evidence.
· The Investigator submits a written report of their findings, and both sides have a right to suggest revisions.
· The school must hold a live hearing in which both sides have an opportunity to present their case to one or more decision-makers.
· Both sides in the case may appeal the hearing findings under certain specific conditions like the discovery of new evidence or the revelation of procedural misconduct.
Many schools now also have a policy for so-called “non-Title IX misconduct,” or sexually based offenses that Title IX doesn't cover. So, for example, even if an alleged incident does not occur on campus, many schools will still investigate and adjudicate if it involves two students. Such cases are not subject to federal law, and so schools aren't required to provide respondents with any particular due process rights. Some schools treat both Title IX and non-Title IX cases the same. Others have invented very different processes to deal with the latter.
How Colorado Colleges Manage Misconduct
Again, you should always check your own school's policies for clarification, but in general, most Colorado colleges and universities use a similar set of procedures for dealing with misconduct.
- Preliminary meetings: Typically, once an accusation has been lodged against you, your school will set up a formal meeting to discuss the charges. This will give you the opportunity to give your side of the situation. Often, either before or after this meeting, the school will also provide you with written notice that details the accusation and apprises you of your rights.
- Investigation: Schools conduct at least some kind of investigation into almost all misconduct cases, even if that just means asking a professor to provide evidence to support their plagiarism accusation. Allegations of serious offenses such as sexual misconduct usually warrant a full, formal investigation.
- Hearings: Here again, serious accusations—especially those that might result in suspension or expulsion—almost always result in a hearing where you have the opportunity to defend yourself. Some lesser offenses, though, may be decided by a committee or a single official.
- Appeals: Finally, as a check on their judicial processes, most colleges and universities provide you with some means by which you can appeal decisions made against you.
Handling Meetings and Investigations
No matter how your school may deal with your particular misconduct cases, there are certain best practices you should always keep in mind.
- Avoid talking to any school investigators or officials without your attorney, even just to protest innocence. You may know that you did nothing wrong, but your university will not simply take your word for it. In fact, your school may even try to use your explanation against you. Don't give them this opportunity. Some schools have rules that prohibit attorneys from speaking on behalf of students, but at a minimum, a lawyer can advise you on what to say and how to present yourself and may be allowed to accompany you even if they can't talk directly to officials.
- Keep your story as much to yourself as you can. It can be useful to tell a close friend what you're going through, but beyond this, limit who you talk to about your case. The more widespread your story, the more chance there is that public opinion might turn against you and prejudice decision-makers. It goes without saying that you should never try to defend yourself on social media or talk to the press.
- Specifically, don't talk with your accuser. You may believe you can avoid a messy investigation by explaining yourself directly to the person who made the allegation against you. Unfortunately, that is almost never the case. It is far more likely that you will create more animosity, and you could even wind up with additional charges as a result.
- Gather evidence. Take time at the beginning of the investigation to write out your versions of events. In addition, hold on to any and all evidence. Even if you're worried a piece of evidence may tend to incriminate you, your lawyer may know how to use it to your advantage.
- Take care of yourself. Misconduct cases—even over small matters—can be incredibly stressful. Make sure you keep yourself healthy throughout. Continue going to class and studying. Give yourself mental health breaks. Consider seeing a counselor. It won't help your case if you become overwhelmed by what's happening to you.
- Hire an attorney. You should never try to take on your school alone. The judicial procedures are too complex, and there's too much at stake. The moment you're accused, contact an attorney who has expertise with student conduct cases. They'll know how to defend your reputation and get you the very best possible resolution.
Your College's Disciplinary Hearings
Your school will almost certainly provide you with a hearing if there's a chance you could be either suspended or expelled. Many aspects of a hearing will be the same no matter what college or university you attend.
· Your school should notify you in advance, so you have time to prepare your case.
· You should have access to some kind of supportive advising. At many schools, this can be an attorney.
· Both sides in the case will have an opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses.
· The case will likely be decided by what's known as the “preponderance of evidence” standard. This standard is far less rigorous than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Essentially, decision-makers can find you responsible for a violation if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed the offense.
Other elements of a hearing may depend on the nature of your offense or your particular school's policies.
· Your advisor may be allowed to speak for you and may even be allowed to cross-examine the claimant and other witnesses directly. However, your school may require that all questions be asked by the decision-makers or hearing officials. They may also restrict your advisor's ability to speak to anyone other than you.
· Some schools use a slightly stricter standard in deciding cases, one known as “clear and convincing.” According to this standard, decision-makers must believe it is “probable” that you committed a violation before they can find you responsible.
Possible Colorado College Sanctions
Most schools provide a wide range of punishments for conduct violations. With some minor variation, those usually include things like
· A formal written warning placed in your file
· Loss of on-campus housing
· Loss of other privileges such as extracurricular activities
· Course scheduling changes
· No contact orders
· Financial restitution
· Mandated counseling
· Loss of scholarships or other financial aid
Keep in mind that all of these sanctions—even those that may seem fairly innocuous—can have long-lasting repercussions. Often students believe that it's better to accept responsibility even for something they didn't do, or accept a penalty, even one that's far harsher than the violation deserves, simply because they don't want the hassle of having to defend themselves. It can be scary to confront your school and declare your innocence. However, even a written warning that gets into your file can disrupt your academic and professional career. Misconduct that's noted on your transcript can prevent you from getting scholarship money, from applying to internships and graduate school, even from getting a good first job. No matter what you've been accused of or what sanction you may be facing, you're always better off challenging your school's policies rather than just blindly accepting them.
Best Practices for Responding to Allegations
No one wants to have to deal with an allegation of misconduct. You can fight, though, and you can win.
Dealing with the Accusation
If you're innocent, a misconduct accusation can be a shock. In such a situation, you're likely to say and do all sorts of things that could ultimately hurt your case. The best policy, then, is to shut your mouth and hire an attorney. Don't engage with professors or get involved in arguing your innocence. Hire someone who can advise you on exactly what to do and say.
A lawyer is a professional. They've been to law school. They make arguments and negotiate settlements for a living. You don't. We all have trouble accepting help from others sometimes. In the end, though, that's an attorney's job.
During the Hearing
Your school will notify you of a hearing well in advance of the actual proceedings. In addition, you should have access to all the evidence against you. This gives you time to develop an effective defense strategy, organize your case, and decide exactly how you'll present yourself.
Here again, an attorney can be vital to this process. An attorney with experience in student conduct hearings will know exactly how the procedures will unfold. They'll be practiced at advising you on what order to call your witnesses in and what kinds of questions to ask them. They can help you practice making your own statements. Even if your advisor can't actually address the hearing officers, they can advise you and keep a record of any procedural mistakes the officers commit.
Students—even innocent students do lose hearings. The fact that the decision-makers are using the “preponderance of evidence” standard always jeopardizes the likelihood of a just verdict. However, hearings are not quite the last word on your case. Your school will have some appeals process in place that allows you to question that verdict.
Unlike a hearing, though, an appeal is conducted almost entirely on paper. You don't get to speak directly to decision-makers. This is yet another reason why it is so important to hire an attorney to help you with this aspect of your case. Your attorney will have experience crafting judicial documents. They'll know exactly what kinds of arguments are likely to get you an appeal and what kind won't.
Joseph D. Lento, Student Conduct Advisor
Attorneys specialize. If you're looking to write your will, a family or local attorney is probably going to be your very best option. By the same token, though, if you're dealing with a school misconduct case, you need a lawyer who specializes in those cases.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney, but he's not just any defense attorney. He built his career representing students just like you in all types of misconduct cases. Over the years, he's helped hundreds of students to fight charges of cheating, vandalism, assault, even rape. Whatever your situation, Joseph D. Lento will fight to make sure your school doesn't trample on your rights.
If you or your child has been accused of any kind of misconduct, don't wait to act. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.