Although it may seem like something you can fix on your own, disciplinary charges are a serious matter that warrant attention from an experienced DC student defense lawyer. With this in mind, the following are the most important steps you should take after learning of a disciplinary charge, and what you should absolutely avoid to keep your situation from getting any worse.
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Typically, students will receive an e-mail on their student account that notifies them of the charges and that they need to appear for what is essentially an initial conference with the student judicial officer. Typically the student judicial officer is the lawyer who is working on the case and is employed by the university.
At that meeting the basic procedures will be explained to the student; they will usually be given a copy of the written complaint and they will be allowed to ask questions about the proceedings.
The first thing that a student should do when he or she receives a notice of a pending accusation or a pending complaint of violation is to call a lawyer who is specifically experienced in dealing with university proceedings.
Dealing with the university faculty on your own is often difficult and can put you at a disadvantage. Speaking with a lawyer who is familiar with the university administrators and faculty members who are in charge of university disciplinary proceedings can balance out that power structure and put a student on more even footing, which makes him or her able to better address the complaints and allegations.
In some situations, getting help from your parents in finding and speaking with a lawyer can be helpful. Parents can help judge whether certain lawyers are experienced and knowledgeable enough. Parents also can help a student decide how to connect with the lawyer who can provide proper representation in the event that there is an impending criminal charge arising out of the same conduct as the student judicial allegations. Having a lawyer who can help you deal with both of those situations at the same time can be very helpful.
Students should understand that a lawyer representing a student in a university hearing is very different from a lawyer representing a defendant in a criminal case. The role of an attorney is much more limited in university hearings, and it is important to have a lawyer who understands the different role that a criminal defense lawyer serves compared to a student defense lawyer.
Students must be aware of any specific conditions imposed by the university while a hearing is pending. For example, when a university informs a student that there is a pending complaint against that student for a violation of the student code of conduct, they will sometimes issue conditions such as requiring a student to have no contact with the accuser or to stay away from dorm rooms or other areas where the accuser is known to frequent.
Speaking with a lawyer to make sure you understand how to comply with requirements can help guide you through the situation and make sure that you do not accidentally do anything that could cause the university to add additional allegations of violations. That can help ensure that as a student you are not placed at any additional disadvantage.
One thing that is particularly important is with regards to the sexual assault accusation context. If someone is accused of assaulting a sexual partner or having sex without consent. What they should not do is contact the person accusing them in any way to try to get to the bottom of it on their own, because the issue has already gone too far to resolve in that way.
The other important thing to remember is before a person receives a notice, if they have any inkling that there is an issue with the sexual partner and they receive a text or an e-mail or a call that is not accusatory, they should not attempt to resolve it on their own or apologize to the person.
People often act off natural instinct and try to make the situation better by apologizing, even if they do not feel like they did anything wrong. You might feel the person has been going through a bad time, they are just overreacting, or they were drinking and do not have a good memory of what happened, and you try to explain and apologize. That is never a good idea.
The best response is to not respond at all. Instead, you should call an attorney. It is unfortunate that that is the state of our college campuses now, but that is a fact of life because those apologies and explanations will be used against a student later.
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