As a college student, you can try to do your best to stay out of trouble. And you should! But still, even the most rule-abiding students can still find themselves accused of breaking them. Plagiarism, housing violations, and assault are only a few offenses that college students are regularly accused of, or at least hear about on campus. And if you ever face such an accusation, you may find it to be a jarring experience. You’ll have to decide what to say, when to say it, and to whom, and you’ll have to do it quickly.
Because addressing the accusation can be so demanding, below we’ve compiled a list of some key things to remember when dealing with them.
1. Take the accusation seriously
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a student accused of an offense is to not take the accusation seriously. Maybe you think that the accusation is just so erroneous that there’s no way it could ever get traction; that there’s just no way that anyone could believe it. But you need to remember that being formally accused is a serious matter, and even though it may seem absurd that someone would think it of you, you need to begin preparing.
2. Remain Calm
On the other hand, another big mistake you can make is not staying calm enough. Accusations are alarming, especially when if they’re baseless. And it isn’t unusual to feel overwhelmed; especially when the charge leveled against you is a serious one. You may immediately want to address your accuser, rant to friends, or even contact campus news sources. But it is important to fight that first instinct of panic so that you don’t make things worse. Until you are sure of how you want to proceed, it is crucial to maintain a level head so that you can make smart decisions as the process unfolds.
3. Collect evidence
Perhaps one of the most helpful courses of action that you can take immediately when accused with a crime or violation is to collect evidence you can use to defend yourself. Sources such as text messages and emails can be invaluable in explaining your whereabouts, key times, and relationships with witnesses. Additionally, in cases of academic code violations, digging up old work can also be helpful. For instance, if you’re accused of plagiarism, it will clearly help to have multiple saved drafts of your work showing its progression. Having evidence readily on hand can be invaluable to a strong defense, so start gathering it as soon as you’re accused.
4. Understand the accusation
It’s common sense that in order to respond to an accusation you’ll need to understand it. Nevertheless, people regularly find themselves unaware of the codes that they violated, be they criminal or academic. Understanding the accusation doesn’t just mean knowing what the accuser is saying you did. It’s knowing specifically which standards it violates, and how you’ll have to deal with it. You may have to review student codes of conduct, or even statutes. From there, the process can involve hearing boards, interviews, trials, or even just mediation. But if you don’t know and understand how to proceed, you won’t be able to successfully.
5. Consult with an attorney!
This one’s a no-brainer. Simply put, your best chance of combating a false accusation, whether it’s in an official legal proceeding or some other system, is to have an expert on hand. You wouldn’t try to perform an operation yourself when you could get a surgeon. Don’t try to defend yourself against false charges without an attorney. Navigating disciplinary and criminal systems successfully can be nearly impossible to a layperson, so give an attorney a call. You’ll be glad you did.
These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.