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Student conduct code

Will my college find out if I am arrested off-campus?

By May 13, 2024May 30th, 2024No Comments

If you have been arrested while you’re in college — even if it wasn’t on campus — you run the risk of being punished twice for the same crime. 

Twice? But doesn’t the U.S. Constitution protect people from being tried twice for the same crime? These are valid questions you might be asking, and the answer is yes, it does. But disciplinary proceedings at colleges and universities are not criminal trials, so it’s highly possible that you can face both criminal charges and disciplinary action for the same offense. 

In this blog, the student defense attorneys at DC Student Defense in Washington, D.C. explore how off-campus arrests can affect a student’s academic career and life on-campus.

Why Do Colleges Have Disciplinary Proceedings?

Colleges and universities have adopted codes of conduct to guide acceptable and unacceptable behavior from its students. It’s a liability for schools to ignore arrests of students off campus, as the alleged crime could have an impact on student safety at school. 

Here’s an example: The University of Memphis was sued for reportedly allowing a student accused of sexually assaulting another student to remain on campus, even though he had been formally charged with the assault. A judge sided with the student who sued the school, saying that the school’s response could constitute negligence. The judge allowed the case to go forward, but in late 2021, the suit was dismissed.

What’s the difference between a criminal trial and a college or university disciplinary hearing? 

There are a few key differences between criminal proceedings and disciplinary actions at a university, including: 

  • Proof of guilt: In a criminal proceeding, a prosecutor has to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That’s a much higher standard of proof than most college campuses, where administrators only have to be “mostly sure” that a student violated the code of conduct. 
  • School disciplinary proceedings are typically completely independent of legal proceedings, so just because you’re found not guilty on criminal charges doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be cleared in your college discipline case. 
  • Standards and rights: Defendants in criminal trials have several constitutional rights; the right to legal representation, the right to remain silent, and the right to a jury trial being a few. In school disciplinary hearings, some general rights may be extended to the student, but overall protections tend to be less extensive than the law calls for. 
  • Severity of consequences: criminal convictions may result in hefty fines, lengthy jail time, probation, or even community service. The outcomes of disciplinary hearings can be a warning, suspension, or even expulsion. 

How will the school find out about your arrest? 

If you think that because you weren’t arrested by university police, then the college surely won’t find out about the arrest, you’re wrong. 

Many colleges and universities have agreements in place with local law enforcement agencies for police to report arrests of college students to their respective schools. Even if there’s no formal agreement in place, your school has other ways of finding out if you’ve been arrested. 

What are my rights if I’m arrested off-campus and facing disciplinary action on campus? 

When facing disciplinary proceedings stemming from an off-campus arrest, it’s crucial to understand your rights and seek appropriate legal guidance. Seeking counsel from an attorney who has experience in college student defense can provide invaluable support and advocacy tailored to the unique complexities of campus disciplinary matters.

Not all schools allow a lawyer to be present with the student during his or her disciplinary hearing, but you have every right to contact one. 

Student Defense Lawyer in Washington, DC

In navigating an off-campus arrest and any repercussions of it, awareness of your rights and strategic legal counsel can be pivotal in safeguarding your academic and personal interests.

Shanlon Wu, a former federal prosecutor, is uniquely suited with the experience needed to help with your case. Contact his office for a consultation.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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