Being accused of a disciplinary charge at a college or university in Washington, DC can put your educational status at risk. As a result, it is important that you understand what exactly you are up against and take the necessary steps to build a strong defense. The following is information on what those facing disciplinary charges should know, and how a DC student defense lawyer can help, even if no criminal charges are present. To learn more call and schedule a free consultation today.
The most intimidating aspect of receiving notice of a college or university disciplinary charge is that you can feel like you are up against extraordinary odds. The universities or colleges that bring the charges against their students write their own rules and prosecute the violations. Often, faculty members or other students are responsible for deciding whether a student is in violation of the student code, and the university is responsible for deciding who presides over the student hearing. In the end, the university—not a traditional court—decides the outcome. So essentially, the university acts as judge and jury.
The other challenging aspect of university discipline is that students aren’t entitled to the same due process, constitutional protections and representation by an attorney that apply in a criminal case, even though the consequences of a university hearing can be serious.
Furthermore, the rules can be more vague than in a criminal case, where there is a long tradition of case law and certain defined rules. University rules give the university a lot of leeway as far as how they conduct their own hearings. The hearings can be conducted in a way that students don’t understand very well, and the universities may rush hearings along without giving students enough time to properly investigate the allegations against them when they are handling the investigations by themselves.
So for those reasons, the help of a lawyer who has experience in dealing with universities and university disciplinary hearings can make that process significantly less intimidating.
If you have received a disciplinary charge, or even if you think that you might receive a disciplinary charge, you should be very careful about whom you speak to about the allegations or about the situation in general. When a student believes that there may be a complaint against him or her, it is very natural for the student to talk to his or her friends about the situation, confront the possible accuser and talk with possible witnesses, but doing so can place the student at a disadvantage because it can be seen by the university as an attempt to obstruct the process or influence witnesses as far as what to say during the university’s investigation.
So before speaking with any possible witnesses or attempting to reach out to an accuser, you should first speak to a lawyer. A lawyer can advise you as to what your risk is when it comes to speaking with other students or faculty members about the situation and how to minimize the chances that you can be seen as obstructing the university’s investigations.
The defense attorney’s role is much more limited in a college or university disciplinary hearing than in criminal proceedings. In most situations, the attorney isn’t permitted to speak on behalf of the student, and depending on the school, sometimes the attorney isn’t even allowed to be in the same room as the student during the hearing. This means that in nearly all university hearings, students are required to speak on their own behalf and answer questions directly instead of through an attorney. Essentially, the student is not allowed to use an attorney as a go-between when communicating with the university.
What a lawyer can do is serve as an adviser. That means a lawyer can help a student investigate possible witnesses, prepare possible testimony and make sure that he or she understands the process and doesn’t do anything that could incriminate him or her or make the situation worse. Another important task that an attorney might perform is ensuring that the university is following the proper procedures and is conducting the student hearing in a fair manner so that the student is granted the opportunity for an impartial hearing.
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