Being in college isn’t that different from the “real world.” In both settings, there are some things that are illegal and doing them can get you into real trouble.
Don’t kid yourself that a campus crime will be swept under the rug. College students can and do face serious consequences in the college disciplinary process and also if they are charged criminally.
Examples of offenses that could potentially lead to criminal charges include:
- Alcohol-related offenses, fake IDs and DUI
- Drug offenses
- Assault or fighting
- Breaking and entering
- Forgery and financial offenses
- Domestic violence, rape, and other Title IX offenses
In any of these cases, you could face campus discipline, criminal charges or both. In a disciplinary hearing, you could face outcomes such as the loss of your housing, loss of your scholarship or even expulsion. In a criminal case, the potential consequences include fines, incarceration and, in certain cases, registry as a sex offender.
Furthermore, what happens in a college disciplinary hearing could affect – or even bring about – later criminal charges.
What should I do to defend myself?
First, get an attorney now.
You have the right to have an attorney at essentially any proceeding where you could face substantial consequences. If you have been accused of something that could end up in criminal court, or if you’re not sure, you should hire an attorney right away.
Even if you’re only under investigation, an attorney can help you respond to the investigation in a way that protects your rights. If things have gone farther, you may still be unsure if you need an attorney. Is the accusation serious enough to warrant hiring a lawyer? Has it gone far enough for that?
A representative from your college may try to discourage you from hiring one. They may imply that you are over-reacting or making things more difficult by hiring legal counsel. Your college’s representatives may not be hostile, but they are not on your side. Their job is to protect the college or university’s interests.
If you have any question whether you need an attorney, you should talk to one right away. A lot could be at stake.
In the meantime, don’t talk to anyone about your case except an attorney.
Don’t try to defend yourself on social media, by telling your side of the story, or by bad-mouthing your accusers. It might be very tempting to try to defend your reputation, but don’t do it. Anything you say – or post on social media – could be used against you. It’s hard to know how your statements could be perceived.
Don’t I have due process rights?
Unfortunately, you don’t have the same rights in a college disciplinary proceeding that you do in a criminal court. This is a problem because the statements you make in a disciplinary hearing can be used against you in criminal court.
The situation is especially dire for those accused of sex crimes or domestic violence. Rape and domestic violence have long been problems on college campuses, and officials are currently under pressure to crack down.
If colleges and universities do not appropriately address crimes against women on their campuses, they could be accused of discriminating against women in education. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits gender discrimination at colleges and universities that accept federal funding (and almost all of them do). If they don’t address the problem – visibly – they could face financial consequences.
The truth is, some institutions may not be as interested in protecting the rights of the accused or finding the truth of the situation as they are in being seen as taking appropriate action. The best way to ensure the rights you have are not violated is to hire an attorney to protect them.