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Student conduct code

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

By March 9, 2020May 7th, 2020No 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. 


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 is being 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 is allowing the case to go forward. 


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. 

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? 

Not all schools allow a lawyer to be present with the student during his or her disciplinary hearing, but you have every right to hire a lawyer to help you prepare your case. You should look for an attorney who specializes in college student defense. Shanlon Wu, a former federal prosecutor, is uniquely suited to help with your case. Contact his office for a consultation

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Ashley Wilson

Author Ashley Wilson

Ashley grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma before moving to Washington, DC for undergrad at George Washington University, where she will soon complete double majors in Criminal Justice and Psychology, with a minor in Law & Society. She has competed in mock trial competitions at both the high school and collegiate levels in hopes of preparing her for a career in criminal law. In her free time, Ashley has tutored inmates in GED-prep at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women through the Petey Greene Program. She is currently serving as the Vice President of the GW chapter of the Student Alliance for Prison Reform. Ashley also serves as a University Justice on GWU’s Conduct Board in the Student Rights & Responsibilities office where she determines responsibility and sanctions for a wide variety of conduct and academic integrity violations. Ashley Wilson began interning for WGW in January 2016 before becoming a paralegal in June 2016. She assists in legal research for college student defense cases and writes for a blog about the college disciplinary process. She also aids attorney Shan Wu with his college course at GWU: Campus Justice. She has been accepted to multiple law schools and is currently weighing her options for 1L this fall.

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