Article: What a Criminal Defense Attorney Tells His Children About… College

For most high school students, attending college is an American experience to which they greatly look forward. We’ve all seen it in movies – college is the place where you get to live away from your parents, make a lot of great new friends, join clubs, teams, fraternities/sororities, go to a lot of amazing parties, and even attend class once in a while (hopefully!) And while college can be a very rewarding and life-changing experience, for many teenagers it’s their first taste of real freedom. With that freedom comes real responsibility. That’s why it’s important to educate your kids on the school’s code of conduct before sending them off on their own.

A school’s code of conduct encompasses the rules students are expected to abide by while enrolled in the institution. If a student violates any of those rules, he/she will be subject to disciplinary action. In some cases, the consequences of these actions can have a devastating impact on your child’s future, with punishments as severe as expulsion.

I’ve represented students facing disciplinary action for over twenty years now, and in my experience, the areas where students tend to get into trouble are: Drugs/Alcohol, Plagiarism, and Title IX Violations.

Drug/Alcohol Violations

It’s common knowledge that many college students consume both drugs and alcohol while at school. But getting caught with them can still pose problems. Your child may be charged with a violation of a school’s conduct code for possessing alcohol as a minor; possessing, selling or distributing drugs; or being intoxicated while on campus.

In most cases, punishment for a first offense is usually a lecture series, and maybe probation. But after that punishments range from additional probation, to removal from campus, suspension and sometimes even expulsion. Drug/alcohol violations related to hazing can also have very severe consequences.

Plagiarism Violations

Nowadays, the plethora of free information available online has created a double edged sword for students. On one hand there is a lot more information available that can aid them in their assignment, and on the other hand they may not fully understand exactly when they’re committing plagiarism. The internet has also created more resources for professors to catch them in the act.

Schools take plagiarism very seriously and employ a number of different punishments for those students that commit plagiarism. These include:

  • Failing the assignment
  • Failing the class
  • Disciplinary proceedings
  • Permanent mark on your transcript
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

Title IX Violations

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and its subsequent interpretations by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, allegations of sexual assault on college campuses are treated very seriously. Since 2011, the burden of proof that is required to prove that a sexual assault is much lower than it is in a criminal court setting, making it very easy for those accused to be convicted.

Affirmative Consent is the standard used in New York State any many colleges across the country to determine whether a sexual act was consensual the burden is on the accused to show that the other party, by words or by actions, knowingly and voluntarily agreed to the interaction.

In many situations, the complainant will state that they were incapacitated and thus were not able to consent due to being unable to make their own decisions or care for themselves, Usually the cause of the incapacitation is drugs or alcohol. While the use of drugs or alcohol use does not make you automatically incapacitated, it can be used as evidence of incapacitation. Hence parties, where drugs and alcohol are involved, are the most dangerous situations for students to engage in sexual activity.

The path that Title IX cases take to leave the accused with some serious disadvantages. The Federal Government, with the well-intentioned purpose of protecting women on college campuses, unfortunately, executed that purpose by severely depriving the accused of his rights. Some of the difficulties in defending a Title IX case are:

  • The cross-examination of the complainant is not mandatory. In fact, a Title IX case can be brought against a student when the complainant doesn’t testify or even participate in the process.
  • The standard of proof is “By a Preponderance of the Evidence” which means just a bit more than 50%. Previously most schools used the “Clear and Convincing” standard.
  • If the Accused is found to be not responsible, the ordeal may still not be over. The complainant has the opportunity to appeal the not responsible decision

Students who are convicted of the offense may be expelled from school and have permanent marks on their academic records that can follow them for life, regardless of whether or not they are criminally prosecuted and convicted.

Preparing Your Children for College

In my experience the best way to help your college-bound children avoid trouble is by educating them on 1) the potential consequences of their actions, and 2) providing them with realistic ways to best avoid compromising situations. Here are a couple of tips for each of the above violations I mentioned:

Drug/Alcohol Violations

Potential Consequences: Lecture, probation, suspension, even expulsion depending on number of offenses and severity.

Ways to be Safer: Don’t drink/do drugs on campus (while unrealistic, it is still the best way to avoid trouble). If you’re going to participate, do so in a private location, and avoid hanging out in any outdoor areas while intoxicated. If a party gets overcrowded, leave before campus safety (or worse, the cops) break it up.

Plagiarism Violations

Potential Consequences: Failing grade on the assignment, failing the class, mark on transcript, suspension, expulsion. Ways to be Safer: When in doubt, cite your work. It’s better to have too many citations than not enough. Talk to your professor BEFORE handing in an assignment if you are confused.

Title IX Violations

Potential Consequences: Suspension, expulsion, permanent mark on your record.

Ways to be Safer: Avoid any sexual situations involving alcohol/drugs. Look up the affirmative consent law of the state in which your child is attending college and educate him on exactly what it requires.

For further reading: The Most Common Code of Conduct Violations in College.