Heading off to college is an exciting prospect for young people, many of whom are living away from home for the first time and experiencing unprecedented freedoms. Unfortunately, this newfound freedom sometimes goes too far and without parental supervision, kids may push boundaries that can lead to trouble. Easy access to alcohol or drugs, sexual freedoms, and a party atmosphere can lead to errors in judgment resulting in anything from college discipline to misdemeanors and even felony criminal offenses. Below, we outline some common situations in which college students may find themselves.
If you have been accused of, think you may be accused of, or are being investigated for a crime committed either on or off campus, it is imperative that you act proactively. Criminal charges are not only stressful, but they also carry serious consequences that can affect your continued enrollment in school, your freedom, and your future. You may think that you can handle the situation on your own—maybe even avoid your parents finding out—but we strongly caution you that the first thing you should do is contact an attorney who can protect your rights.
Before you know it, one false or incriminating statement can, and will, be used against you and you could be facing lifelong consequences from your actions.
Our most important piece of advice: Always be respectful and never answer questions unless you have an attorney present to ensure everything possible is done to avoid a criminal record. Good kids can have their futures derailed. Don’t let a mistake ruin your life.
Criminal Proceedings v College Disciplinary Hearings
If you are a college student charged with, or being investigated for, a criminal offense you may be facing both the criminal court process as well as a college disciplinary hearing. While these are two separate proceedings, both can have serious long-term consequences.
- A criminal conviction in court can lead to fines, jail time, a period of probation, a criminal record, and the loss of your driver’s license as well as future job prospects.
- A conviction in a college disciplinary hearing can result in expulsion from school, loss of housing, loss of financial aid, and a tarnished academic record, affecting acceptance to grad school and job prospects.
As a student, you are obligated to follow a set of rules and regulations as outlined in your institution’s Student Code of Conduct or similar document. Many students don’t recognize the seriousness of these rules, and don’t realize that breaking them could land them in serious hot water. Even if you are found not guilty by the state, you could still be found “guilty” at your school disciplinary hearing, which will leave a permanent stain on your record.
State criminal court procedures typically follow the usual rules of evidence and require prosecutors to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
University and college disciplinary hearings on the other hand, do not follow the usual rules of evidence, the burden of proof is not the same, and there is not necessarily the same due process afforded you in a court of law. In a college disciplinary hearing, the burden of proof is considerably lower, and these hearings can seem subjective or arbitrary by comparison. Students can be sanctioned simply if there is “a preponderance of the evidence,” in other words, if it was more likely than not that the misdeed was carried out. If the review board feels that more than 50% of the evidence points to a violation, the student can be found guilty.
Be very aware that if you are more forthcoming in a school investigation because you don’t think it is as important as a legal case, or because you think you can present facts to clear yourself, a criminal prosecutor can subpoena anything you say in a disciplinary hearing to use against you in a court of law. Navigating these dual proceedings is challenging and requires the advice of an experienced attorney by your side.
Our Advice: Students should be wary of incriminating themselves throughout the disciplinary process, especially when the student is also subject to a criminal investigation or has criminal charges pending. Call an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.
Contact Us for Experienced Criminal Defense
Vincent A. Tofani heads Parker Scheer’s Criminal Defense practice and has successfully represented hundreds of individuals charged with OUIs and other criminal offenses in courts throughout Massachusetts. He has obtained “not guilty” verdicts in over 75% of the cases taken to trial. While every case involves unique facts and circumstances, attorney Tofani has the skill and the experience to provide you with the very best chance of obtaining a favorable result.
If you are a college student and find yourself facing potentially life-altering criminal charges, call Vincent Tofani at 617- 241- 4244 immediately.