College Code of Conduct Student Defense Advisor – South Dakota

If your frame of reference for college is Animal House, Road Trip, or Old School, it might be time to revise your thinking. Find yourself accused of misconduct these days, and you can expect much more than a slap on the wrist. It's no exaggeration to say that breaking rules in college can put your entire future in jeopardy.

With so much at stake, if you're facing a charge from your college or university—any type of charge—you simply can't afford to try to handle it by yourself. You're going to need help from an attorney. You don't want to hire just any attorney, though. You need someone who understands the law and how it applies to higher education but who also has experience dealing with campus faculty and administration. In South Dakota, that person is Joseph D. Lento.

Three Types of Misconduct

Every school is different, and they all have their own policies when it comes to student misconduct. If you really want to know how your school operates, you should look for a copy of the Student Code of Conduct. In most cases, these documents are available both online and in print form.

However, you can expect some things to be true no matter where you're enrolled. One of these is that your school will almost certainly divide student misconduct into three categories and have a separate policy for each one.

Academic Misconduct

As you might expect, every school has a policy against academic misconduct. After all, no school can survive for very long if it develops a reputation for cheating. In general, these policies are designed to ensure no one has an unfair advantage in attaining their degree. More specifically, they tend to focus on misbehaviors like cheating, plagiarism, and falsification.

You can expect that your instructors have primary responsibility for identifying and punishing instances of academic misconduct. Sanctions usually include one of the following:

  • Verbal warning
  • Written warning
  • Make-up assignment
  • Lowered grade on the assignment in question
  • Lowered grade in the course

In all likelihood, your instructor is also required to report any violations to a central administrative office. This office can then assign more severe punishments if the offense is especially egregious or if you have a history of cheating. These punishments can include academic probation, suspension, and expulsion.

Disciplinary Misconduct

Schools usually have a separate policy dealing with “disciplinary misconduct” or offenses that take place outside the classroom. Again, every school is different, and your particular school may give more weight to some rules than others. Ultimately, though, you can expect your college to have rules against:

  • Underage drinking: The drinking age in South Dakota, as in the rest of the country, is 21. Every school in the state has strict rules forbidding underage drinking. Some limit where and when those over 21 can drink. A few ban drinking on campus altogether.
  • Drug use and possession: Likewise, drug possession remains illegal in South Dakota. You can expect that your school forbids the use and possession of any and all controlled substances.
  • Hate crimes: Federal law classifies any crimes motivated by a person's race, gender, age, or religion as “hate crimes.” Many South Dakota schools go further and punish all forms of discrimination and verbal harassment against a protected identity status.
  • Hazing: Most schools in South Dakota have rules against dangerous or coercive activities associated with entry into any group or organization.

In addition to these rules, your school likely has a residence life policy that governs your behavior in dormitories and cafeterias on campus.

Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct is technically another type of disciplinary misconduct. However, colleges and universities usually treat it as its own specific category of misconduct. In part, that's because sexual misconduct is governed by Title IX, a federal law that prohibits all forms of sexual discrimination and harassment.

The law includes a set of guidelines that dictate exactly how colleges and universities must treat any and all allegations. Those guidelines run to some 550 pages. Here are the highlights:

  • Every school must have a designated Title IX Coordinator. This individual receives all complaints and makes decisions about which ones to pursue.
  • If a Coordinator decides to open a formal investigation into an accusation, they must appoint a separate Investigator to look into the matter.
  • Once an investigation has concluded, the school must give Complainants and Respondents the opportunity to present their cases at a live hearing.
  • At the conclusion of the hearing, Decision-makers—again, appointed by the Coordinator—use a legal standard known as “preponderance of evidence” to decide whether you are “responsible” (guilty) or “not responsible” (innocent).
  • Your school must have some type of appeals process for you to raise questions about the hearing outcome. In most cases, though, you can only file an appeal for certain very specific reasons, such as the discovery of new evidence or an accusation of procedural misconduct.

The Title IX guidelines changed significantly in 2020. Specifically, the Trump administration narrowed the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictional authority. In response, a number of colleges and universities instituted new policies to deal with incidents no longer covered under the law.

Because these so-called “non-Title IX” cases aren't subject to federal law, schools can investigate and adjudicate them as they see fit. Many schools have elected to use Title IX procedures in both kinds of cases. Some, though, have created their own unique policies, and often these do not give Respondents the same due process rights they're entitled to under Title IX.

How South Dakota Schools Manage Misconduct Allegations

Just as every school in South Dakota has its own set of rules, every school has its own particular set of procedures for handling violations of those rules. Specifics aside, however, most follow some version of this process:

  • Preliminary meetings: As a starting point, you'll be asked to meet with a faculty member or administrator to discuss the specific charges against you. You'll have the opportunity to explain your side of the situation.
  • Investigation: Your school will conduct at least some kind of investigation into the allegation. In a plagiarism case, this might be as simple as collecting documentary evidence. In other cases, though, an investigation might last over several months and involve collecting physical evidence and interviewing witnesses.
  • Hearings: If you face a severe sanction such as suspension or expulsion, you'll likely have the chance to defend yourself at some kind of formal hearing. Schools don't always provide hearings, though, especially in cases of minor infractions.
  • Appeals: Finally, your school should have some method for appealing the outcomes of the investigation and hearing. However, it may limit the circumstances under which you can file such an appeal.

Handling Your School's Investigation

You may think you're ready to deal with an accusation. After all, you're a college student. You're smart, and you're capable. Formal misconduct charges, though, almost always come as a shock. Even if you're just being accused of a minor academic infraction, the process of proving your innocence can be stressful. As a result, it's a good idea to make a plan now for how you will handle the situation.

  • Never talk to officials without first consulting with an attorney. You will want to believe the school is on your side. In fact, some schools will try to convince you they have your best interests at heart. Once you're accused of violating policy, though, their goal is to find you responsible. Just as in a criminal investigation, what you say can—and will—be used against you. Make sure you talk to counsel before you give your side of the story or answer any questions.
  • Don't talk about the case to others. It can often be useful to talk to a close friend or family member about your situation. Otherwise, though, avoid talking publicly about what's happening. In particular, avoid posting anything about the case on social media.
  • Don't contact your accuser. Your school will likely prohibit you from talking to the Complainant. Even if they don't, however, you should stay as far away from your accuser as possible. Among other things, trying to contact them can get you charged with harassment.
  • Keep yourself healthy. Facing an allegation, even a small one, can be stressful. Take measures to keep that stress to a minimum. Keep your routines consistent. Continue attending classes; keep up your daily exercise; take time out for mental health. You might also consider visiting a counselor or therapist to get suggestions on how to manage your stress levels or simply to vent about your feelings.
  • Maintain good records. While the events are still fresh in your mind, take the time to write out your version of what happened. In addition, keep all evidence connected to the case. You might want to make lists of witnesses that could testify on your behalf. Finally, make notes of all correspondence and any contact you have with anyone connected to the case. All of this material can be vital to helping you and your advisor craft a successful defense.
  • Get advice from a qualified attorney. Before you do anything else, hire an attorney to help you prepare your case. Even if you're only being accused of something small, you can benefit from professional advice. In many cases, your attorney will be able to accompany you to meetings and hearings and may even be able to speak on your behalf. Even when they can't, however, they can be crucial for helping you to prepare your defense.

Your College's Disciplinary Hearings

Most schools hold hearings into any misconduct matter that might lead to suspension or expulsion. Your school will notify you of your hearing well in advance of the date. That means you'll have time to put your case together. The school will provide you with the name of your accuser and details of the charges against you. You'll likely also have access to all evidence against you.

Your case will probably be heard by a panel or committee made up of faculty and students. You'll have a chance to present your case, but your accuser will as well. Most hearings are decided using a legal standard known as “preponderance of evidence.” Less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a “preponderance of evidence” standard requires Decision-makers find you responsible if they believe it is more than fifty percent likely that you committed an offense.

As with everything else about campus justice, hearing rules vary from school to school. For instance, your advisor may be allowed to speak on your behalf. However, the school may only allow your advisor to attend proceedings but not speak. In some instances, attorneys aren't even allowed to attend. Even in these cases, though, an attorney can be invaluable in helping you plan your defense and prepare to present your case. They can help you draft important documents. They can offer suggestions of what to ask witnesses and can help you practice answering questions yourself.

Possible South Dakota Sanctions

Most colleges and universities use a standard range of sanctions. The severity of the punishment will have to do with the severity of the infraction itself. Typical punishments at South Dakota schools include:

  • Formal written warnings placed in your permanent file
  • Loss of housing
  • Loss of privileges such as extracurricular activities
  • Restitution
  • Mandated counseling
  • Loss of scholarships or other financial aid
  • Probation
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

Any sanction can have lost-lasting consequences. Obviously, you don't want to be expelled, and a suspension can delay your graduation timeline. Even something as small as a written warning, though, could cost you scholarships, keep you from getting into grad school, and even interfere with your ability to start your career, especially if it is noted in your academic file.

As a result, it's almost always better to fight allegations and sanctions. You have the right to demand fair treatment. The best way to do that is to make sure you have a competent lawyer at your side, someone who can help protect your rights.

Best Practices for Responding to Allegations

Bottom line: What can you do to improve your chances of successfully defending yourself?

Dealing With the Accusation

You'll probably be overwhelmed by the allegation against you. In such a frame of mind, you are more likely to make mistakes. You might be tempted, for instance, to argue with school officials or simply to run away. You wouldn't be the first. At a minimum, you'll be vulnerable to saying things that could complicate your situation.

The solution is to hire an attorney, right from the start, to help you navigate the system. Attorneys are practiced at making arguments. They're professionals when it comes to negotiating on your behalf. You want someone with experience helping students through school misconduct cases, though. They'll know how to talk to faculty and administration and how to deal with the public and the press if that becomes necessary.

Before and During the Hearing

Every case is different. You'll need to plan your defense carefully based on your specific circumstances. What is the nature of the allegation against you? What kind of evidence do you have to support your case? Who will be judging you? Before you head into any meeting or hearing, make sure you've gone over all these questions with an attorney and worked out a detailed strategy.

Making Appeals

If you should lose your case, you'll likely want to file an appeal. However, most schools limit the grounds for appeal. You may only be able to file one if you've found new evidence or if you can prove a Decision-maker had a clear bias against you. In any event, you'll need to have a strong argument if you want to convince an administrator that your case deserves a second look.

Unlike a hearing, an appeal is conducted almost entirely on paper. Most of the time, you can't speak in person to Decision-makers. They won't see you; they won't get to hear your voice. This is yet another reason why it is so important to hire an attorney. Attorneys are practiced in choosing the very best arguments. They're also expert at making those arguments in writing. A good lawyer can make sure your appeal gets heard and give you the best chance at winning it.

The Lento Law Firm Can Help

Joseph D. Lento is a fully-licensed, fully-qualified defense attorney. He specializes, though, in advising students in misconduct cases. Over the years, he's helped hundreds of students just like you defend themselves from charges both big and small. Joseph D. Lento knows the law, specifically as it pertains to higher education. He's not about to let anyone trample your due process rights. In addition, though, Joseph D. Lento understands how colleges and universities operate. He's adept at dealing with faculty and administrators and can get you the very best possible resolution to your case.

If you or your child has been accused of misconduct in South Dakota, don't wait to act. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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