Taking a Page from your College or University Code of Conduct
Institutions of higher learning strive to create campus communities that support diversity, honesty, integrity, and fairness for everyone. As part of that endeavor, most schools in the United States – as well as many overseas – publish the ethical, professional, and legal standards they expect students, faculty, and university employees to follow in an official document called a code of conduct. You've likely already been asked to look over the code at one point or another – either after you were accepted to the school of your choice or perhaps when you arrived on campus for freshman orientation. It's usually a rather lengthy chapter inside the student handbook.
Colleges and universities work hard to create a sense of true community on campus. The code of conduct, which you can think of as the school's body of internal laws, helps them to do just that. The code details the various regulations, as well as individual responsibilities, with regards to the issues that most impact campus life. You'll find classroom-related entries regarding smart phone use during exams and academic honesty as well as dormitory living policies about alcohol use or overnight guests. Simply stated, these are expectations the school has about your conduct and behavior while you are a member of the community. And you are expected to follow them, as are faculty members, administrators, and campus employees, during your tenure at the school.
While you may be inclined to just skip over the code of conduct when you review your student handbook, it is important that you understand the rules within it. If you violate the code, you could face serious consequences – from loss of school privileges to even expulsion. It's also important to understand that, while you are subject to the code, colleges and universities do not have the power or resources to enforce it the way, say, a county or state might enforce their laws. The rights and safeguards you assume will protect you may not be applied in quite the same way in a university judicial setting. If you or someone you know has received a notice of violation, it's critical that you take it seriously. This is not a matter to be ignored. Your best bet is to consult with an experienced attorney-advocate with national experience in code of conduct matters.
Your Rights and Expectations
If you have been accused of a code of conduct violation, including a trespassing violation, you will be notified via a notice of violation, sometimes called a notice of disciplinary action. It will likely be a formal letter from the administration sent to your mailing address – but it's possible you will also get a copy in your student email inbox. This notice will contain some basic information about the allegation. It also often includes the time and date for an administrative hearing. It is similar to a court appearance. This hearing will be the place that you will hear the charges and evidence being brought against you, as well as your opportunity to tell your side of the story and defend yourself.
That said, campus judicial hearings are run are often quite different than the court proceedings you've seen on your favorite televised legal drama. Every university and college manage their processes and procedures just a little bit differently. And while you always have Constitutional rights to protect you in a court of law, the same may not always hold true in an administrative hearing. While institutions of higher learning are expected to administer university justice in a consistent manner, they often have more flexibility when it comes to protections regarding self-incrimination, privacy, searches, and representation. It's important to bear this in mind. What you say can be used against you in a code of conduct violation – which is another reason why it's so important to have the guidance of a good attorney, even if your notice of violation says representation is not necessary.
You've worked hard to get into the school of your choice – and likely have big plans for your future. With all of your efforts – as well as a significant financial investment – at stake, it's important you put your best foot forward when answering a code of conduct violation. Having the expertise of an attorney with extensive code of conduct experience can help guide you as you navigate your school's judicial processes – and build the kind of defense that will help you reach the best possible outcome.
Simply put, trespassing is knowingly entering a specific area without permission. Look around your college or university. It's likely you'll see many doors with signs that say things like “No Unauthorized Entry,” “Restricted Area,” or even “Authorized Personnel Only.” These restrictions are often there for your safety: certain work areas may contain dangerous chemicals or equipment that could be dangerous to the uninitiated. But colleges and universities are also worried about intellectual property theft. Since so many schools are also home to workspaces and laboratories that are shared with industry players or government agencies, they need to make sure everyone's work is protected from prying eyes.
You may find yourself with a trespassing violation if you have knowingly accessed a building, laboratory, office, construction site, or another area where restrictions have been posted. And a finding of a violation in this instance can have serious consequences. You may face the loss of university privileges – or even suspension or expulsion. What may have been an accident – or a joke or dare – can result in penalties that will show up in your permanent academic record.
What Should I Do If I Am Accused of a Trespassing Violation?
If you have received a notice of trespassing violation, it is important not to panic. Panic rarely helps any situation. But you shouldn't just ignore the notice either. To develop a strong defense – and adequately explain why you may have been found where you shouldn't have been – it helps to have an experienced attorney-advocate by your side. A lawyer with nationwide experience in code of conduct allegations can help you understand the nuances of your university's judicial system – and help you put your best foot forward with your defense. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have successfully defended countless students across the nation who faced various code of conduct allegations, including trespassing violations. He can help you best manage your situation, too. To schedule a confidential consultation with attorney Joseph D. Lento, call (888) 535-3686 or contact us online.