College students at any institution in America are fully aware that a disciplinary hearing facilitated by a university is nothing to joke about. Not only can a student potentially be expelled or suspended, but the stigma that goes along with being the subject of a university disciplinary investigation or hearing can be extremely hurtful while attending the university and well beyond graduation. A new bill that was proposed in Congress aims to help make the process of being involved in a disciplinary hearing more fair.
Last week, Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona and Pete Sessions and Kay Granger of Texas introduced the Safe Campus Act in the House of Representatives. The bill aims to add fairness to the sometimes one-sided disciplinary proceedings that occur at universities and colleges all around the country. Under current law, higher educational institutions typically appoint one party to investigate the allegations that were made and then adjudicate the matter. This type of procedural line blurring would never be accepted if implemented in a court of law.
Another aspect of campus investigations and disciplinary hearings involves the limitations on representation, evidence availability, and the ability to question the parties involved. Under current law, many campus investigations and hearings follow policies that are developed and implemented by the universities themselves. Many of such policies disallow or limit representation by an attorney and create unfair and damaging limitations on the type of evidence that may be introduced and questioning of witnesses. Under the proposed bill, both parties involved would be granted the right to counsel during the length of the investigation and proceeding. Furthermore, parties would be given the ability to examine and/or cross-examine witnesses or parties associated with the investigation. Finally, more evidence would be “discoverable” than is now available under current law.
One of the most drastic changes that is offered by the bill is one that is welcomed by a national super-PAC that represents the interests of sororities and fraternities around the country. The Safe Campus Act would bar universities and colleges from investigating or holding hearings with regard to a crime if the incident was not reported to local law enforcement officers first. FratPAC said that they believe that the new legislation, if enacted, would make it easier for those who have committed sexual assault or other violent crimes on campus to be punished, while ensuring that those that have been falsely accused retain their due process rights. Currently, a student may be disciplined (up to and including expulsion) during a disciplinary proceeding without the complainant having reported any incident to a law enforcement agency. Many groups that support the new legislation worry that if the current policies are left in place, universities and colleges will be able to erode the individual rights of students that are accused of crimes without a police report ever having been filed with regard to the underlying incident.
The students that are accused of criminal misconduct on campus are not only worried about the possibility of expulsion. Students also face the stigma of being labeled a criminal as a result of proceedings that are less than fair. If you or someone that you know has been accused of committing an offense that is being investigated by a college, university, or the local police, it is in your best interest to contact George Hildebrandt, an experienced criminal defense attorney with over 30 years of experience.