Student Rights When Facing Charges in Columbia

When a student is accused of violating their school’s code of conduct or honor code, the student may be unsure of what to do next. Fortunately, students have the right to an attorney if they are facing these accusations. Immediately following an accusation, it is best to reach out to a seasoned student defense attorney to learn about your legal rights and options.

The lawyer can be there to help the student prepare for this process and can walk them through a strategic plan of defense regarding the information that is available, the evidence used by the accusers, and possible ways to challenge these charges. Speak to an experienced attorney to learn about student rights when facing allegations in Columbia.

Who Conducts Investigations?

In many code of conduct cases, the University of South Carolina Police Department is called to handle the matter.  The USC Police, City of Columbia PD, and Richland County PD are very active in these cases, so it is possible to have multiple police working these investigations. The case also could involve solely the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, which is not the same as if a trained law enforcement officer is investigating the case.

Cases are different when conducted by a trained law enforcement officer who knows what they are doing and how to comply with the law regarding legal searches and seizures. Whether the police need a warrant depends on the facts and circumstances of each case, which is why it is so essential that the student calls an experienced lawyer immediately. The student defense lawyer can review the facts of the case and tell the student whether their rights were possibly violated by the search.

Unreasonable Search and Seizure

There are situations in which students sign documents that dilute their basic rights as far as consenting to have their dorm room searched. Instead of random searches, most searches done by the university tend to be based off a tip to a resident advisor (RA) about either the smell of marijuana or a loud noise violation that is possibly related to alcohol use.

Students retain their right against unreasonable searches and seizures (absent a specific waiver or express consent), so the university would need an exception to the warrant requirement or a warrant to search the student’s vehicle. Depending on the student’s location, they may waive their right against unreasonable search and seizure of their person, allowing the university to search them for items.

However, students do not waive all of their rights even when those rights are diluted, so a student’s person cannot be searched without some type of probable cause of a criminal violation or a police officer believing they have a reasonable fear that the person might be armed and dangerous.

Rights Outside of University or College

Students have significantly less rights when facing college or university allegations than they do when facing criminal charges outside the university. The due process protections of criminal courts are generally diluted or do not exist in many college and university campuses as far as the disciplinary process is concerned.

Also, the hearings do not have the high burden of proof, such as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold in the criminal justice system.  At the University of South Carolina, they generally use the standard of “more likely than not,” which is significantly less burden of proof than having proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is such a diluted low standard in a highly subjective process that depends on the hearing officer assigned to review the matter or the panel members assigned to review the case. Other rights, such as the right to obtain certain evidence and documents as well as the right to confront witnesses are significantly limited.

There has been legislation pushed by many criminal defense attorneys in an attempt to get these critical due process protections put into place because these allegations can have lifelong consequences to the student’s career.

How a Student Defense Attorney Could Help

Student defense attorneys start by looking at the facts of the case, evaluating the procedure and steps that need to happen next, and making sure the student understands the process and is prepared for the hearings. They build a strategic plan of defense and provide critical advice that the student needs to understand the process and to defend against these allegations. Schedule a consultation to learn more about student rights when facing charges in Columbia.