Can Attorneys Advocate at College Discipline Hearings?

Universities can implement discipline hearings for a wide range of alleged offenses, and the consequences can be quite serious, including suspension or expulsion from the school. Further, if the administration or the other party reports the issue to the police, criminal charges can also be a concern. If students are facing a disciplinary hearing for any reason, protecting their rights and future is paramount. Students have the right to legal guidance and representation and are well advised to have an experienced school discipline attorney in their corner.

The Disciplinary Hearing

Disciplinary hearings on college campuses do not have the same checks and balances in place that criminal court proceedings do, which can leave students at a distinct disadvantage. School disciplinary hearings are informal hearings that are generally led by either a college administrator or a hearing officer who does not necessarily have any legal background. Further, the rules of evidence, including those related to hearsay, do not apply, and the administrator who hears the case is also likely to make the final determinations and hand out the related consequences, which can derail a student’s education.

At Your Hearing

Prior to attending a hearing, the student should have access to the detailed report generated by the school’s investigation. The standard for finding a student guilty in a disciplinary hearing is considerably lower than it would be for a criminal or even a civil trial. For the disciplinary hearing, a preponderance of the evidence is required, which means that there is enough evidence to determine that student is more likely than not guilty.  In a criminal court, the standard is truth beyond a reasonable doubt.

Not all students facing school discipline have the right to a hearing. Sometimes just an investigation is completed.  At a school investigation, students have the right to name witnesses they want interviewed. At a hearing, students have the right to bring witnesses to testify, but they do not have the power to subpeona witnesses.  They also will be allowed to bring an advocate to the investigation and hearing, sometimes that includes an attorney.  While the attorney will likely not be allowed to speak at the investigation or hearing, they can still play an invaluable role in a student’s defense, including:

  • Obtaining, reviewing, and evaluating all the available evidence prior to your hearing;
  • Understanding the implications of the college’s student code of conduct;
  • Determining whether a police report was filed and if a criminal case may be forthcoming; and
  • Ensuring that the student is well prepared for the hearing, including knowing what questions to expect – and how best to answer them; and
  • Attend all meetings and hearings with the student and advising them.

Common Disciplinary Hearings

Colleges and universities can hold disciplinary hearings for the following:

Violence and Fighting

Threats of violence and actual violence can both lead to disciplinary measures, and because such charges affect student safety and can be related to actual physical harm, they are taken exceptionally seriously. Often, related criminal charges are also levied. Common examples include:

  • Criminal threats
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Assault likely to produce bodily injury

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault charges are serious criminal charges, and most colleges obviously take such matters exceptionally seriously – often prioritizing the rights of the victim over the rights of the accused out of heightened concern for victims. This imbalance can lead to serious consequences, which makes working closely with a dedicated California education attorney with a wealth of experience successfully handling these challenging cases in students’ best interests. These types of matters are usually investigated under Title IX.

Alcohol and Drugs

College campuses take issues related to drug and alcohol use very seriously, but because modern institutes of higher learning have a better grasp of addiction-related concerns, they are more likely to address this issue in terms of getting the students the help they need – in the form of inpatient or outpatient treatment or rehab. Those cases that involve the sale or distribution of drugs, however, are generally a very different matter and are likely to involve criminal charges.

Property Crimes

Property crimes, such as theft or vandalism, are also serious disciplinary concerns that can lead to criminal charges, but they don’t rise to the level of violent acts.

Academic Dishonesty

While academic dishonesty – or cheating – is not likely to elicit criminal charges, it can lead to serious consequences in terms of your education. Common forms of academic dishonesty include:

  • Plagiarism
  • Falsifying documents
  • Cheating on tests or assignments
  • Lying

An Experienced California Criminal Defense Attorney Is Standing by to Help

If your student is facing a college disciplinary hearing, it is a serious matter, and you should not wait to consult with a knowledgeable school discipline lawyer today.