Due process of the law is the guarantee that legal proceedings will be fair; that the accused will be given notice of the proceedings and an opportunity to be heard before the government takes away their life, freedom, or property; and that the government won't make laws that are unreasonable or without proper consideration of the circumstances. These protections come from the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In recent years, lawmakers have used these constitutional protections to enact state laws governing student disciplinary proceedings at institutions of higher education.
Maryland State Law Requires Schools to Provide Due Process Safeguards for Students in School Disciplinary Actions
In 2019, legislators in Maryland enacted Senate Bill 607, which requires universities and colleges to include due process protections for students involved in disciplinary proceedings for certain violations of school codes of conduct. Lawmakers crafted the Maryland bill to protect sexual assault survivors and respondents to sexual assault allegations by making on-campus proceedings fairer for all involved. The Maryland statute requires every institution of higher education to have a written policy on sexual assault with broad due process guarantees for students alleging a sexual assault and students defending against a sexual assault allegation. Maryland SB607 mandates that schools provide students with timely notice of the allegations and disciplinary proceedings; the ability to participate in the proceedings; and the assistance of an attorney or advocate. The statute also gives students the right to appeal a determination or punishment, and requires schools to provide students with information regarding the appeal process.
Higher Education Students Get Fair Notice of Sexual Assault Allegations and Disciplinary Proceedings Under Maryland Statute
Maryland SB607 explicitly requires school disciplinary actions and resolutions to be prompt, equitable, and handled with dignity, respect, and sensitivity by school officials. The statute gives students the:
- Right to receive timely written notice of the reported violation (including date, time, and location) and the range of potential punishments
- Right to receive timely written notice of the student's rights and responsibilities under the school's sexual assault policy (and information about other civil and criminal options)
- Right to receive timely written notice of each hearing / meeting / interview that the student is required or allowed to attend
- Right to receive timely written notice of the final decision made by the adjudicating person / group and the basis for the decision
- Right to receive timely written notice of any punishment imposed
- Right to appeal the decision and information about the appeal process
College and University Students in Maryland Are Guaranteed the Opportunity to be Heard in School Disciplinary Actions and Appeal
Maryland SB607 also explicitly requires school disciplinary proceedings for alleged sexual assault violations to provide an opportunity for the alleged violator and alleged victim to be heard. In acknowledgment of the sensitivity of investigations and disciplinary actions regarding alleged sexual conduct violations, the statute minimizes direct interactions between the alleged violator and the alleged victim. Instead, students prepare for and participate in the proceedings in a manner that does not require them to be in the physical presence of each other (for example, electronically). Investigators or adjudicators serve as intermediaries.
The statute guarantees Maryland students the:
- Right to access the school's case file and evidence relating to the allegations (with personal information redacted)
- Right to offer testimony at a hearing or to the adjudicator
- Right to present evidence, witnesses, and suggested specific questions to be asked to the other student involved in the proceedings
- Right to provide and review testimony electronically or in a way that does not require students to be in the physical presence of each other
- Right to review and respond in writing to reports and proposed findings
- Right to appeal a determination or punishment
Maryland Law Establishes Students' Right to Attorney or Trained Advocate in School Disciplinary Proceedings
While providing the broad student due process protections discussed above, Maryland SB607 also provides students the right to the assistance of an attorney, an advocate supervised by an attorney, or a trained advocate to:
- Attend hearings / meetings / interviews
- Provide private consultations
- Assist with the student's exercise of any right during the proceedings
In addition, the statute explicitly states that a higher education institution may not discourage a student from retaining an attorney.
Contact the Lento Law Firm for an Attorney-Advisor Dedicated to Defending Students Against Alleged School Code of Conduct Violations
Recent due process statutes such as Maryland's Senate Bill 607, Arizona's Revised Statutes 15-1866, and Kentucky's House Bill 290 signal legislators' increasing concern over the fairness of school disciplinary proceedings for students and their privacy concerns. The stakes for a student defending against sexual conduct violations and/or other school code of conduct violations are high, especially given the sensitive nature of the alleged offense. Students found in violation of school codes of conduct risk several punishments, which can jeopardize future educational and career opportunities.
Attorney-advisor Joseph Lento specializes in defending students against school code of conduct allegations as well as appealing school disciplinary decisions. Contact the Lento Law Firm online or call 888-535-3686 to learn how Joseph D. Lento can help.