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Wednesday, Oct. 31st 2018

Campus Discipline and Criminal Liability: Two Sides of a Coin

There are many varieties of student misconduct which can submit a student to university discipline. I have written previously about Title IX Sexual Misconduct, which is gender based discrimination or offensive conduct related to gender. This can relate to words and deeds. However, there is a broader basis for jurisdiction to be asserted by universities over alleged student misconduct which is typically investigated and prosecuted by the Office of Student Affairs or other university department charged with governance over student conduct. The conduct in question usually occurs on campus but many universities claim jurisdiction over student misconduct occurring off-campus when the complainant, or victim, is another student.
The most obvious risk for a student accused of misconduct is the risk of dismissal from the university. The range of sanctions typically covers a spectrum from an official reprimand to suspension to dismissal with a restriction on reapplying for a period of years or in some cases, never. The less obvious risk is that the conduct in question may also result in a criminal prosecution, or Title IX Sexual Misconduct. It is fairly common for students accused of theft, drug use, drug sale, assault, rape, property damage, criminal fraud, burglary etc. to face criminal charges in the local state court system while their university disciplinary case is also pending.
There is no Miranda style right to be advised that anything you say may be used against you in a court of law when the party asking the questions is a dormitory resident assistant or a Student Affairs investigator. It is only when one is in police custody that Miranda v. Arizona right to remain silent applies. So the trap is that an unwary student admits to campus misconduct but also, unwittingly, admits to a state level felony or misdemeanor. Campus discipline authorities are free to share information obtained in an interview with a student who is not in custody of campus police or local police. Admissions made can and do lead to criminal charges.

Students should remember that they are under no duty to cooperate with a campus student affairs investigation. Those investigators often claim to be able to resolve the matter without dire consequences but unless the student is offered a contractually binding agreement for a particular disciplinary outcome, the investigator’s objective is to obtain admissions of guilt and then decide whether to seek dismissal from the university and referral to police authorities. When a student is first contacted by university authorities, by phone, email or letter making an accusation of student misconduct, that is the time to politely decline to discuss the allegations and to contact a student rights lawyer.

In the event that the misconduct is first reported to police and the student is arrested, the student should remember what the Miranda warning means and decline to talk about any alleged incident and use the right of a phone call to contact parents or others to arrange for a criminal defense lawyer to get involved. Most experienced criminal defense lawyers know to refer the campus misconduct part of the matter to a student rights lawyer to handle the campus discipline process. If you or your child is the subject of a campus discipline allegation, you are encouraged to call Mr. Cohen at 785.979.7361 or email him at cac@studentrightslawyers.com

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