Accused of Academic Misconduct: Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you have been accused of academic misconduct, you may think that you don’t need a lawyer, and you may have been told that you don’t really need an attorney because, unlike the criminal justice system, academia’s purpose isn’t to determine if you’ve committed a crime and punish you but rather to determine if you violated the school’s code of conduct, and to instruct, or to teach you.
Your school or institution may not even allow an attorney to be present during the disciplinary hearing, and if they are permitted to attend, they will likely not be allowed to speak on your behalf, ask questions, or present evidence. And unlike the court system, academic misconduct cases do not allow discovery or depositions. But should you consult a lawyer anyway?
What is Academic Misconduct?
Depending upon the individual school or institution and its individual code of conduct, as well as the type of school and your age, academic misconduct could include: underage drinking, drug possession or use, DUI, public intoxication, hazing, bullying, cheating, plagiarism, causing disruption in the classroom, sexual harassment, sexual assault, theft, vandalism, gang activity, bomb threats or other threats to students, faculty or staff, among other offenses.
As a student, what you do off-campus can become the subject of a school disciplinary or misconduct hearing, especially if the school believes the off-campus conduct demonstrates a danger to others in the school community.
For more serious offenses, a criminal investigation may also be opened, but the criminal case is completely separate from the academic misconduct charge, and neither is required to rely upon findings in the other proceeding. In many cases, the school will not agree to postpone the disciplinary hearing just because a criminal case has been brought against you.
Penalties for Academic Misconduct
Each institution has its own set of rules and penalties for academic misconduct, but the penalties can be serious and long-lasting. They can include probation, loss of student housing, suspension, loss of scholarships or financial aid, loss of study abroad or other privileges, or even expulsion. An academic disciplinary record can also prevent you from being accepted to certain colleges or graduate programs, and employers may review your academic disciplinary record, which can prevent you from obtaining employment.
If the misconduct comes to light after you have already graduated, such as in a case in which cheating, plagiarism or other academic misconduct was discovered after your degree was already conferred, your degree can be rescinded. This can result in you being fired, or you may be disqualified from other jobs in the future that require the degree.
Any penalties imposed by the academic institution are separate and apart from criminal sanctions that may be imposed if you are charged with a crime and have to go to court.
Can an Attorney Participate in a Disciplinary Hearing?
At most schools, if you are charged with academic misconduct, you will go before a disciplinary panel. The panel is often made up of fellow students, faculty and/or other college staff. The proceeding can be an informal conference or a more formal hearing, depending upon the school and the infraction.
Some schools allow a student to have an advisor present with them at the hearing. Some schools only permit advisors who are fellow students, faculty members or school staff, while others allow an outsider to act as your advisor. Schools that permit an outside advisor may allow your attorney to act as the advisor. Check your school’s Code of Conduct and rules for disciplinary hearings to find out what the rules are at your institution.
Even if your attorney cannot participate in or accompany you to your disciplinary hearing, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney as soon as you receive notice of a disciplinary action against you. Most schools have a short time for you to enter a response, gather any evidence or witnesses, and/or review their file on the case. You may need to make an appointment to review the school’s file, and you will want your attorney to be present. In addition, an attorney can help you gather evidence that supports your defense and can help you determine if your school has adhered to its own rules and strict guidelines, especially for more drastic penalties such as suspension, expulsion, or rescinding a degree.
An attorney can help you to prepare for your disciplinary hearing, can anticipate the questions that might be asked during the hearing and help you formulate responses, and provide other tips for handling the hearing itself.
If you have questions about academic misconduct, post them on our site and a qualified education or criminal attorney can help.
Do You Need An Attorney?
If so, post a short summary of your legal needs to our site and let attorneys submit applications to fulfill those needs. No time wasted, no hassle, no confusion, no cost.