If you're a Kentucky college student who's been charged with some type of misconduct, the first thing you need to know is that you need help. You can't handle this situation on your own; it's simply too complex.
Everything is at stake in a misconduct case. Even a minor sanction could derail your academic and professional future. A written warning about cheating placed in your file might keep you from getting that scholarship you were hoping to apply for in the spring. It could interfere with internships, graduate school, even job applications.
Yet, colleges and universities don't make it easy to fight accusations. They sometimes treat you as guilty even before anyone's bothered to do an investigation. They might not give you a hearing. And if you should get a hearing, your school doesn't have to be sure “beyond a reasonable doubt” about your guilt. If they're over fifty percent certain you committed a violation, they can find you responsible.
Luckily, you don't have to take all of this on alone. There are attorneys out there whose primary focus is school misconduct cases. So, find out all you can about your situation. It's important you know what you're up against. Then, pick up the phone and find the very best person you can to help you defend yourself.
Three Types of Misconduct
No two universities are exactly alike, even if they're in the same state. Every disciplinary policy is just a little different. If you really need to know exactly how your school treats violations like underage drinking or damaging school property, you need to check out your Student Code of Conduct. Every school has one, and they usually publish them both online and in print.
That said, there are a number of important similarities between Kentucky schools. One of the most important is that they all divide misconduct into three broad categories: academic misconduct, disciplinary misconduct, and sexual misconduct.
Though they may call it something different, all schools maintain a strict “honor code,” “honesty policy,” or “academic integrity policy.” These are designed to prevent you from gaining an unfair advantage in completing your coursework or getting your degree. Most honor codes focus on cheating and plagiarism, though they may also talk about other general forms of dishonesty like misrepresentation or falsification.
Your school probably gives your instructor the right to identify and punish academic misconduct. Sanctions might include things like re-writing the assignment or accepting a lower grade. In serious cases, an instructor may even choose to fail you in the course.
Typically, there are options for appealing your instructor's decision, whether that means protesting your innocence or arguing that a sanction is too severe. This might involve petitioning the course department's chair or submitting your work to an integrity committee. In addition, universities usually ask that faculty report all instances of academic misconduct. If you are a repeat offender, you can expect the school to issue additional sanctions, such as probation, suspension, or expulsion.
Of course, beyond its educational function, a university is also a community. As such, it needs rules to govern how members of the community behave and treat one another. Collectively, these rules form a “disciplinary” policy. As with academic misconduct, schools differ in how they define disciplinary misconduct. However, they tend to agree when it comes to the most serious offenses, especially those offenses that are prohibited by law.
- Drug possession: All Kentucky schools ban the possession and distribution of controlled substances. This includes marijuana.
- Underage drinking: All Kentucky schools forbid students under 21 from consuming alcohol. In fact, some schools go further and either restrict where students can drink or ban drinking on campus altogether.
- Hazing: Under Kentucky Law, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville are both required to maintain anti-hazing policies. However, hazing—initiation activities that could cause physical or emotional harm—are prohibited at all other schools in the state as well.
- Hate crimes: Kentucky law makes it a crime to commit offenses “intentionally because of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.” It's no surprise, then, that such behavior is also a policy violation at Kentucky colleges and universities.
Finally, you should know that if you live in an apartment or dorm on campus, you're subject to additional community rules under your school's residence life policy. Rules here may govern everything from taking screens off the windows to who you're allowed to invite over at night.
Sexual misconduct, including a whole host of behaviors from verbal harassment to rape, is technically a type of disciplinary misconduct since it involves how members of the university community treat one another. However, it is treated as a separate category of misconduct, largely because it is subject to federal law. That is, unlike drug possession, sexual misconduct isn't just against the law, but rather the law—Title IX—dictates exactly how schools must respond to allegations.
Under Title IX:
- Your school is required to have a Title IX Coordinator. This person makes sure your campus knows about Title IX rules and resources. In addition, they make decisions about which accusations the school should investigate.
- If you've been charged with a Title IX offense, the Title IX Coordinator must provide you with written notice of the allegation.
- Title IX guarantees that you may have an advisor to help you with your case. This advisor can be an attorney.
- Once an official complaint has been filed, an investigator will pursue the matter, collecting physical evidence, interviewing witnesses, and meeting separately with both you and the complainant.
- After the investigation, the school will hold a formal live hearing. At this hearing, both sides are entitled to present their case. In addition to submitting evidence, you may both cross-examine one another as well as any witnesses against you.
- Whatever the verdict of the hearing, you have the right to appeal, though only under very narrow circumstances. These include the discovery of new evidence or the revelation that mistakes were made in the Title IX investigation. The complainant can appeal as well.
While Title IX governs how most sexual misconduct cases proceed, there is now another type of violation known as “non-Title IX” sexual misconduct. Following changes to the law in 2020, many schools decided to create new policies to deal with misconduct no longer covered under Title IX. Often, these policies fall under the university's general disciplinary policy, and your school's judicial procedures in these cases may be significantly different from Title IX procedures. Among other things, you should know that your school is not required to provide you with any particular due process rights in these cases.
How Kentucky Colleges Manage Misconduct
Kentucky colleges and universities generally employ a four-step process for dealing with misconduct allegations.
- Preliminary meetings: In almost all cases, the first thing that happens is that you're invited to a meeting where you're told about the charges and given a chance to explain your side of the story. Some schools encourage you to bring an advisor or support person with you. Others ban advisors from these kinds of meetings.
- Investigation: Your school will conduct some form of investigation, even if that just means that your instructor collects examples of your work to prove an academic misconduct charge against you. More serious cases usually demand more thorough investigations.
- Hearings: Colleges and universities don't provide formal hearings for every type of case. However, if the possible sanctions include suspension or expulsion, you should have an opportunity to defend yourself.
- Appeals: Finally, your school will have some means of appealing the hearing verdict. A committee may hear this appeal, or a single individual may decide the outcome. You should also know that if there's a complainant in the case, they will probably have the right to appeal the decision, too, should you win the case.
Handling Meetings and Investigations
How you conduct yourself matters. What you say and do, from the very moment an accusation has been leveled against you, can be the difference between a responsible and a not responsible verdict. There are a number of best practices that can help you make sure you're creating the very best impression in the minds of school officials and investigators.
- Don't talk with school officials before consulting an attorney. You hear it all the time on TV: Anything you say can and will be used against you. That applies to school conduct cases too. Ultimately, the school may force you to answer questions, but if you've talked to an experienced lawyer, you'll know exactly what to say.
- Don't talk about your case publicly. It can be useful to share what you're going through with family and a close friend or two. These people can provide important emotional support. However, avoid talking to too many people about your case. In particular, don't post about it on social media. This could prejudice investigators and other decision-makers against you.
- Don't contact your accuser. Your school may issue a no-contact order. Even if they don't, keep your distance from the complainant. Trying to contact them can make you look guilty or even leave you open to harassment charges.
- Prepare your case carefully. Details matter in misconduct cases. As soon as you're accused, take the time to write down your side of the story while these details are still fresh in your mind. Collect and preserve any evidence related to the case. Document all your meetings with school officials. All of this material will be vital in building your defense.
- Hire a qualified attorney. Misconduct cases can be complex, and your future is at stake. Don't try to handle the situation yourself. Often an attorney can speak for you or at least accompany you to meetings and advise you at hearings. Even if your school restricts your attorney's role, though, an attorney can help you map out a defense strategy, decide what to say to investigators, and practice interview techniques.
- Take care of yourself. Last but certainly not least, remember to look after your own physical and mental health. You won't be much help to your advisor if you're overwhelmed by what you're going through. Try to keep your life as normal as possible: go to classes, hang out with friends, exercise. In addition, consider seeking counseling to help you deal with the stress you're facing.
Dealing with Hearings and Appeals
The investigation may just be the beginning of your case. You'll probably also want to think carefully about how you handle yourself during the hearings and appeals phases of the process.
- If you've made sure to hold on to evidence during the investigation, you'll already have materials to help you build your defense. The school will likely give you some time—a week to ten days—to prepare yourself before the hearing takes place. Use this time wisely. If you've hired an attorney, meet with them frequently to decide how to organize your evidence, when to call witnesses, and what questions to ask those witnesses.
- Often schools allow you to bring a support person or advisor to the hearing itself. In fact, your advisor may even be able to speak on your behalf. Even if they can't, though, they can be valuable during hearings for helping you decide in the moment how to deal with the issues and problems that always arise.
- There may be a complainant in your case, someone who has accused you of misconduct. This person or the school itself will be building a case against you even while you're building yours. Do your best to anticipate what their arguments might be since this will help you prepare your own responses.
Colleges and universities don't use the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard you're used to seeing on television. Instead, most use something called the “preponderance of evidence” standard. “Preponderance of evidence” means decision-makers must find you responsible if they believe it is more than fifty percent likely that you committed an offense.
Possible Kentucky College Sanctions
Here again, some schools use sanctions you might not find at others. For the most part, though, you can expect your university to use punishments like these:
- 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 sanctions can have serious repercussions. Even a written warning in your file can put your scholarships in jeopardy. A notation that you've been found responsible for cheating could prevent you from getting summer internships, keep you out of graduate school, even make it hard to get that all-important first job. That's beside the damage a more serious sanction like suspension or expulsion can do to your academic career.
Responding to Allegations
Bottom line: what do you do if you find yourself accused of misconduct at your college or university?
Dealing with the Accusation and Investigation
Keep your cool all the way through the process. When you're accused, you'll probably find yourself experiencing some complicated emotions: anger, hurt, anxiety, fear. If you let these get the better of you, you'll make mistakes that could make your situation worse. One way to keep yourself from doing this is to make sure you hire an attorney as soon as possible, someone who can advise you on what to say and how to behave.
We usually associate lawyers with courtrooms. However, they spend just as much time, or more helping clients get through investigative meetings. Your attorney will know exactly what kinds of questions your school will ask you. They'll know what makes for good answers. They can coach you on how to deliver those answers. Most importantly, they can ensure that no one takes advantage of you during the investigation.
During the Hearing
Defending yourself in a hearing isn't about just making your argument. You have to know when to introduce which pieces of evidence. You need a sense of what kinds of questions to ask of witnesses. Plus, the other side is going to present their case as well. How will you respond to that?
An attorney who has experience with misconduct cases will know what to expect during the hearing. They'll be able to guide you through the entire process, from formulating questions to how to dress appropriately. In addition, they'll most likely be allowed to accompany you to the hearing itself and, at a minimum, to give you advice throughout the proceedings.
It's a hard truth to swallow, but you could lose your misconduct hearing. When “preponderance of evidence” is the standard for determining responsibility, you can't expect justice to be done every time. Losing the hearing, though, isn't necessarily the end of your case. You still have options for appealing a judgment against you.
Here again, an attorney can be your most valuable asset. Keep in mind that appeals don't usually work like hearings. You won't have an opportunity to stand up in front of decision-makers and plead your case. You won't control what order they consider the evidence in or be able to use your voice and your body language to exert influence. Everything happens on paper. Luckily, attorneys are expert at making arguments in writing. Your attorney will know exactly what to say to convince decision-makers to hear your appeal and exactly what to say to give you the best possible chance of winning your case.
Joseph D. Lento, Student Conduct Advisor
Before you do battle with your university, you need someone in your corner to help your fight. You need an attorney who can serve as your advisor and help you prove your innocence or argue for a lighter sanction.
You don't want just any lawyer, though. Students are often tempted to hire the first name they come across online. Local attorneys aren't qualified to deal with student misconduct cases, though. You need someone who has experience talking to university officials, who understands college judicial procedures, who knows exactly how to protect your rights during a university investigation.
Joseph D. Lento isn't just any attorney. He's a student conduct attorney. Joseph D. Lento built his career helping students defend themselves from student misconduct charges. Joseph D. Lento has courtroom experience. He knows how to create an airtight argument. Far more importantly, though, he has experience dealing with school faculty and administrators. If you're serious about reclaiming your future, don't trust anyone else as your advisor. Contact Joseph D. Lento today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.