You expected to work hard in college, but you also wanted to have a good time. After all, this may have been your first taste of freedom from your parents' supervision as well as your first step into adulthood. What you may not have anticipated was that one of your college experiences would be getting arrested.
Florida Gulf Coast University, as well as most other colleges and universities, works in cooperation with local law enforcement. Because of this relationship, even if the offense with which police have charged you occurred off campus, you will likely face administrative discipline from the university as well as criminal penalties if you face a conviction. What you may not realize is that the university may not strive to protect your civil rights.
The right to an attorney
You may agree with about 85 percent of those polled in a recent survey who feel that a college should consider you innocent until a court proves you guilty. However, this is not always the case. In fact, 70 percent of institutions of higher learning fail to offer this protection despite the very serious ramifications you may face in an administrative hearing.
Your college administration's notice that you must attend a disciplinary hearing may also have included the instructions not to bring an attorney or advising you that an attorney is not necessary because of the nature of the proceedings. This may be the furthest thing from the truth. Whenever your rights are in jeopardy, you have the right to seek legal counsel, and a skilled attorney will represent you no matter the policy of your college.
No due process?
Almost all college students surveyed agree that administrative hearings should provide due process for students accused of crimes on or off campus. However, only a small fraction of the top institutions allow for due process in their disciplinary hearings, including such basic rights as these:
- Legal counsel and representation
- Full access to the accusations and evidence against you
- An opportunity for you to cross-examine witnesses
- An opportunity for you to present a defense argument or question witnesses on your behalf
- Rulings and penalties based on a standard of evidence similar to the legal system
A negative outcome at an administrative hearing may result in expulsion or other penalties that can seriously impede your future goals. You should not go blindly into your university's disciplinary hearing without proper preparation. This may include obtaining a full evaluation of your case by a legal professional and understanding the true weight of what is at stake.