Almost all American colleges and universities have conduct codes that set forth the standards of behavior expected of their students. These codes require students to follow local, state, and federal laws, and the college's specific rules and standards. Students should review the school's conduct code to understand the school's expectations for student conduct and the consequences of breaking the code. You can usually find the code on your university's website or obtain a printed copy at the Department of Student Affairs.
Students accused of violating the college conduct code have their futures hanging in the balance. Even when a code violation isn't a criminal matter, the charge jeopardizes a student's academic standing, and it can impact personal and professional opportunities far into the future.
Given the high stakes, it's crucial to seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer as soon as possible after being accused of violating the school code. An experienced defense lawyer can help you safeguard your present and your future.
What Are Common Code of Conduct Violations?
Though college and university codes will differ, and there can be an expansive amount of possible charges depending on the school involved and the nature of the misconduct, the following are seven of the most typical Code of Conduct violations.
Academic dishonesty includes violations like plagiarism, cheating, forgery, falsification, and bribery. Some schools may even charge a student with an attempt to commit one of these acts of academic dishonesty. Some schools will pursue academic misconduct charges under their code of conduct, other schools will pursue such charges under their "honor code", and at other schools yet, there will be overlap between the school's code of conduct and honor code.
Students can face a range of alcohol and drug-related violations. Infractions may include drinking alcohol under the age of 21, or using, possessing, or distributing drugs or alcohol. Additionally, some colleges penalize students who provide alcohol to people under age 21.
Rape and Sexual Assault
Because these grave charges are also criminal matters, it is crucial to have a lawyer experienced in Title IX cases and other disciplinary actions. Depending on the school, rape and sexual assault charges may fall in separate categories.
In addition to relevant criminal codes that prohibit physical assault and destruction of physical property, most universities and colleges also forbid hazing rituals that endanger a person's physical or mental health, degrade or humiliate that person, or damage or remove property. Therefore, a student engaging in hazing may face both school disciplinary action and criminal charges.
A student may face disciplinary action under Title IX if someone accuses them of stalking. Schools may define stalking as intentionally engaging in behavior that may cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety, or in cause a person to suffer emotional damage by repeatedly following a person or communicating with them by phone or other means in a way that would annoy or alarm the person.
Threatening Behavior and Domestic Violence
College codes ban students from engaging in or threatening physically or mentally abusive behavior. Schools often define this behavior as intentionally or recklessly causing physical harm to another or placing them in fear of that harm.
Many schools pursue disciplinary action against a student who has committed a crime arising from a perception or belief about the victim's race, religion, color, gender, ancestry, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin. The action may also have criminal consequences.
What happens after a student is accused of violating the code of conduct?
Although procedures vary across colleges, when a student allegedly violates the college's code of conduct, the university will typically inform the student of the allegation and open an investigation. A school official will be responsible for gathering documentation and evidence relevant to the complaint, including interviewing witnesses. After completing the investigation, a school administrator, often the Dean of Students, will decide whether to dismiss the allegations or schedule a disciplinary hearing.
What should a student expect at a disciplinary hearing?
The disciplinary board usually consists of three or more members of the college community—often faculty members, administrative personnel, and students. The convened board will review the evidence and submit questions to the parties involved. The school may record or videotape the proceedings. After reviewing the evidence, the hearing board will decide if the student has committed the alleged wrongdoing, and if so, will recommend an appropriate punishment.
Students and their parents must understand that these proceedings are not like legal proceedings. Students have less protection than in a court of law. There can be little due process, and the board members are not necessarily impartial.
While some schools do not permit lawyers to be present during the hearing, but even in these proceedings, this does not mean that a lawyer is a waste of time. On the contrary, the rules and procedures of the disciplinary process can be highly complex, and it's all the more important for a qualified lawyer to help advise and prepare these students in advance of their hearings so that they understand the issues and the ramifications of the proceeding.
What kind of sanctions might students face?
If the college or university finds a student to have violated its code, the student may face a range of sanctions including:
- Disciplinary or academic probation
- Loss of campus housing
- Loss of a scholarship
- Long-term entry of the disciplinary or academic violations on the student's record.
These sanctions can have long-term consequences for the student, including: diminished opportunities for employment; difficulty transferring to a new university, college or graduate program; or the absence of funds to continue with their education.
Why is it important for a student to have a college code violation defense advisor?
Facing a disciplinary board is often a frightening experience. With so much at stake, it's easy for students to panic and say or do things that might land them in deeper hot water. Some schools allow lawyers to attend the hearing, but even if you are in a school that requires you to attend the hearing without an attorney, your lawyer can still advise and guide you throughout the process.
You should contact an experienced college misconduct defense lawyer as soon as possible after your college has informed you of a pending conduct code violation against you. Your lawyer can conduct an independent investigation of the facts, collect additional evidence, and help you plan a strategic defense.
Lawyers can also provide legal advice as to how to conduct yourself throughout the investigation and proceedings. Although the disciplinary process is not a judicial proceeding, both the school or law enforcement can use any statement the student makes to the college administration or hearing board against them. Therefore, students must understand how, when, and whether to communicate relevant information. A good lawyer helps students preserve their rights and present their side of the story in a clear, persuasive manner.
Sometimes the university may want you to sign documents regarding your alleged conduct. A lawyer can review such written materials to help ensure that the language the university uses is not misleading and doesn't compromise your rights. The lawyer can also make suggested changes to the documents that the student can communicate to the board.
How can a lawyer help a student facing a Title IX violation charges?
Students facing allegations that concern Title IX violations, such as sexual harassment or sexual assault, need vigorous legal representation. These grave allegations can have life-altering consequences, including expulsion. Universities sometimes seek to resolve these cases as quickly as possible, but rushed action can result in an incomplete investigation where the school fails to contact all witnesses or find key relevant evidence. A lawyer highly experienced in defending sexual misconduct cases can ensure that the investigation is thorough and that the accused student receives a forceful defense.
What should I do if I am facing a college code violation charge?
If you receive a notice that you are under investigation for violating the university's conduct code, take these key steps:
Do not talk about the allegation. You may want to try to defend or explain yourself to law enforcement, school administrators, campus security, or even friends. But it's best to keep quiet and speak to your parents and an attorney first. The school can use any of your statements against you, and even the most well-intentioned words can come back to haunt you. Wait until after you have professional guidance before you say anything about the matter.
Take the matter seriously. No matter the nature of the allegation or how ludicrous it may seem to you, don't assume that the issue isn't important or it'll just go away. The problem can rapidly mushroom into an even more serious situation if you ignore it or treat it lightly.
Contact a qualified attorney. An attorney experienced in handling college conduct violation cases can help you determine the seriousness of the problem and help you build a vigorous defense.
For more than a decade, the Lento Law Firm has satisfactorily defended more than one thousand students across the nation facing alleged college code violation allegations. We want to help resolve your situation, too. You have worked too hard, and have too much at stake, to handle this on your own. Let us fight for your future. Call 888-535-3686, or contact us online.