We tend to think of constitutional rights as a universal concept or as something that each and every state agency owes to us. Anytime a government agency can deprive us of liberty or take away what we perceive as a right, we envision the protections of the constitution governing any dispute that we may have.
But that may not always be the case, and that particularly is true when it comes to public colleges and universities. This can be particularly troubling, as many large universities function almost as “mini-cities,” with parking enforcement, housing, campus police, and financial assistance to those in need. And of course, our universities provide us the most important benefit of a college degree.
Thus, you may be surprised that the ability for a university to punish its “citizens” (students) can be surprisingly easy. In most cases, schools do not have to provide you due process, or a full blown trial for violating its rules or regulations, or even for violations of the law.
The constitution generally does not require that a university give you a full blown trial before punishing you, depriving you of a benefit, or throwing you out of the school entirely. This is true even where the charges—such as sexual harassment—may have a significant impact on your permanent record or ability to be hired after school.
Administrative Hearing Problems
In most cases, the most students will get are administrative hearings. As long as an administrative hearing provides the most basic fundamental right—such as the right to be heard—the procedures will pass constitutional muster. That right may only require that you sit in front of an administrator and tell your story, or that you have the chance to speak on your behalf in an administrator’s office.
The “evidence” that school administrators may hear and consider may be what would otherwise be disqualified in real court as unreliable or inadmissible. A student may not even be able to challenge the authenticity or truthfulness or accuracy of documents presented against her.
Schools such as the University of Maryland are free to adopt their own policies and procedures for investigating crimes or wrongdoings. When it comes to crimes involving sexual harassment or misconduct, Maryland has adopted a system where a committee reviews evidence and interviews witnesses. If a student does not like what the committee chooses, the student may simply be limited top appealing to a higher level administrator.
Bias May Be Inherent in the Process
What is troublesome is that in many cases, schools do not have justice in mind—they may be more concerned with protecting themselves from lawsuits. Many may opt to discipline or expel a student to avoid lawsuits later on from other students who may claim they were wronged by that student.
In other words, it is safer for s school to expel someone wrongfully, then keep them wrongfully, hence, the decision-maker may not have the neutrality that a judge or jury would have in the real world.
Make sure that your constitutional rights are protected if you are charged with a crime by any state agency. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss representation to defend yourself against unwarranted or unjustified criminal charges.