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Student conduct code

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

By March 9, 2020April 6th, 2022No 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.

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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