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Tampa Attorneys on Defending College Students

At the Sammis Law Firm, our attorneys are experienced in representing college students and graduate students in Florida who are charged with a criminal offense or face a disciplinary hearing. For many students, the college or university will take immediate action to discipline or expel the student even if the student is not ultimately prosecuted or convicted of the criminal offense. Students interested in pursuing a career in the military, law enforcement, teachers and certified educators, the legal profession, or the health care profession are particularly impacted.

In many cases, the college will not notify the parent (even if the student is dependent and the student is under the age of 21 years old) until after the damage is done and the sanctions are imposed. Although the parent might be paying a small fortune for the student's education, the parent is often the last to know about the allegations. We can help the student understand the university's parental notification policy. Once the student realizes that the parent will be notified immediately after a finding is entered, the the student often decides to go ahead and tell the parents before the formal hearing.

We can help the student understand the university's parental notification policy. Once the student realizes that the parent will be notified immediately after a finding is entered, the student often decides to go ahead and tell the parents before the formal hearing.

We represent students from area colleges and universities including the University of South Florida (USF) and the University of Tampa (UT). Disciplinary hearings also occur at Stetson Law School, Hillsborough Community College and higher learning institutions throughout the greater Tampa Bay area including Tampa and Plant City in Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg and Clearwater in Pinellas County, Bartow and Lakeland in Polk County, and Dade City and New Port Richey in Pasco County, FL. Call an experienced

We work hard to protect the student after an allegation of a disciplinary or academic violation. Call the experienced criminal defense lawyers at the Sammis Law Firm at 813-250-0500. Let us put our experience to work for you.


Remain Silent About the Criminal Allegation

After an investigation begins, and certainly after an arrest is made, it is important for any college student to seek out qualified legal representation immediately. A college student should never make a statement to fellow students, any disciplinary board, or any law enforcement officer until AFTER the student has spoken with a criminal defense lawyer.

The fact that you invoke your right to remain silent cannot be used against you in any criminal proceeding (that normally means the jury would not be told at trial that you wanted to speak to an attorney or refused to talk about the allegation). Additionally, students in Florida also have the same right to remain silent in administrative or disciplinary proceedings. Anything you say to any administrator at the University or College can and will be used against you during any disciplinary proceeding and could theoretically be used against you in a criminal proceeding.

Anything you say to any administrator at the University or College can and will be used against you during any disciplinary proceeding and could theoretically be used against you in a criminal proceeding.


Defending College Students Charged with a Crime

The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm often represent students from some of the area colleges, including the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa after an arrest or criminal accusation. College or university students have special concerns after a criminal accusation is made against them. Each college or university publishes a "Code of Conduct" which usually provides that any student accused of a crime may be prosecuted under State or Federal law and also disciplined under the Student Code of Conduct.

In order words, these sanctions imposed on a college student by the university or college are administrative in nature. Therefore, no double jeopardy issues arise if a prosecutor later tries to prosecute the case in a criminal court.


The Conduct Does Not Have to Happen On Campus

Even misconduct that took place off campus can lead to discipline under the Student Code of Conduct. If USF receives notification of the offense, then USF will send a Notification of Initial Review for a Code of Conduct Violation. The college or university normally extend disciplinary actions to conduct which occurs at any of the following locations:

  • on the college campus or university owned property;
  • at any university or college sponsored event (including sporting events);
  • or any conduct which adversely affects the pursuit of the university or college mission or otherwise affects the community.

A number of ways exist for the college or university to find out about the arrest. If the campus police are involved, then certainly the school will become aware of the allegations. Additionally, during the booking process at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the student is often asked biological information including his place of employment or the place where he attends school.

If the student lists a public or private university, the chances are increased that the school will be notified by law enforcement. Area law enforcement agencies often have informal agreements with area schools to release such information to them in the event that a student is arrested.


Types of Criminal Accusations Leading to Disciplinary Action

Allegations that result in hearings for disciplinary action for violations of the rules and regulations of the school can involve:

  • underage possession of alcohol or misuse of alcohol;
  • possession or misuse or possession of illegal drugs;
  • injurious behavior;
  • simple battery;
  • domestic battery or domestic violence;
  • sexual battery or rape (often called "sexual assault" in other jurisdictions);
  • sexual misconduct;
  • violation of the college or university policy and/or local ordinance, state or federal law.

The Administrative Process - The Five Day Rule

Very strict timelines exist for protecting your rights after the university begins the administrative action. In many cases you only have five days to request either a formal hearing with an administrative officer or a hearing with the Conduct Board.

If you fail to request a formal hearing, then you accept responsibility for all violations and accept the proposed sanctions which can include:

  • Immediate suspension for a period of time - during the period of suspension and until such time as the student is reinstated the student is restricted from going to the campus. The student is not allowed to participate in any official school program, intercollegiate competition, function, or other school activities. Any future contact with the college would have to be directed to a certain office responsible for Student Rights and Responsibilities.
  • Cancellation of the housing contract for students living on campus.
  • Being banned from visiting any residential facilities or living on campus upon return to the university.
  • Being required to complete the counseling programs during any period of re-enrollment.

Formal Hearing for Disciplinary Hearing for College Students

Once the formal hearing is requested, many colleges and universities leave the student's enrollment status the same pending a final decision. In those cases, the student often remains eligible to attend classes pending the final decision. If the allegations involve "violent conduct" then the college can limit the students privileges on campus including attending classes if it would "affect the health, safety or welfare of another student."

After requesting that the college or university schedule the formal review hearing, the student is provided with a hearing date and time. Some colleges, such as the University of South Florida will also include an agenda for the hearing. You are invited to prepare question in writing for possible use when questioning the complainant and other witnesses. Parents are not notified of the disciplinary hearing at this stage.


What Happens During the Disciplinary Hearing?

Different schools have different procedures for the hearing. At public institutions such as the University of South Florida (USF) the student has the right to have a criminal defense attorney in the hearing room. Although the attorney is not permitted to ask questions of the witness, the attorney can help the student prepare the questions that should be asked. The attorney can also help the student call witnesses or present other evidence.

In some private colleges such as the University of Tampa, the attorney may not be permitted to attend the hearing. Instead, the student is only allowed to bring another person associated with the university such as a fellow student or faculty member. However, the attorney can help the student prepare an opening and closing remarks, questions for adverse or favorable witnesses, the presentation of evidence, and closing remarks.


Rights at Public Colleges or Universities

The hearing officer is often permitted to determine the relevance of questions submitted and may paraphrase the content. The student is not allowed to have an attorney ask questions; however, the student is allowed to have an "advisor" present during the hearing. The "advisor" should be the student's criminal defense attorney. Although the criminal defense attorney may not question the witnesses or speak on the student's behalf, the attorney can help the student through the process in order to fight for the best result possible.

Additionally, the attorney can make sure that the student does not make any statements that could later be used against the student during the prosecution of the criminal case in state court.

For instance, according to the Student Code of Conduct for the University of South Florida, the hearing officer is selected out of a bank of students, faculty and staff that have been trained as Conduct Board members. Under the student's rights of due process, the student is entitled to have the names of the witnesses that will be speaking at the formal hearing. The university will typically provide the student with a list of witnesses prior to the hearing.


The Right to Call Witnesses

Likewise, the student is entitled to call witnesses. The student is responsible for securing the attendance of those witnesses at the hearing. The student must also submit a list of the witnesses to the university hearing officer prior to the hearing. It is also the student's responsibility to contact these individuals to be present at the hearing. Most universities, including the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa do not allow the student to call any character witness during a disciplinary proceeding.

Additionally, the student may have the right to review the file prior to the hearing by making an appointment with the school's Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities Office prior to the hearing date. In many cases, the student's attorney will accompany the student to the look at the record if the college or university refuses to release a copy to the student prior to the hearing. Article last updated September 4, 2013. 


Typical Agenda for University Administrative Hearing in a Disciplinary Proceeding

The hearings are closed. The student will be notified of the charges, which often involve a criminal office or the misuse of alcohol or the misuse or possession of an illegal drug, including marijuana, hazing or fighting. A presiding officer will be assigned.

1. INTRODUCTION: Introduce the Hearing Officer and other persons involved in the hearing. The Officer will also read a statement regarding the purpose of the Conduct Board.

2. CHARGES: The University Official (member of SRR) will begin the hearing by reading the charges for which the student has been held responsible.

3. PLEA REQUEST: The Hearing Officer shall request that the Charged Student enter a plea of responsible or not responsible to each charge.

4. WITNESS LIST: The Hearing Officer asks both the University and the Charged Student if a list of witnesses has been submitted. If so, the calling of the witnesses on behalf of both parties will happen after each party presents their side of the story.

NOTE: Character witnesses are not relevant and will not be permitted in this process. The disciplinary process is an examination of the alleged student behavior found to be in violation of the Student Code of Conduct, not the character of the student.

NOTE: It is possible that the University may not call witnesses and that the written reports of individuals involved, including police reports, would serve as witness testimony. If no witnesses are present on behalf of the University, the Hearing Officer should proceed to the verbal account of the Charged Student.

5. PRESENTATIONS:

(a) The University Official now presents the case as it relates to the disposition of the Initial Review and evidentiary support and reasoning for the charge(s) and sanction(s). After these statements, the Hearing Officer will call witnesses on behalf of the University.

Witnesses for the University shall be called at this time.  All witnesses should provide a summary of their involvement with this case or organization. As called, each witness shall be directed to identify her/himself for the record and shall be reminded of hearing protocol (i.e., to present true information and to treat others with courtesy and respect).

Once the witness has completed his/her statement, the Hearing Officer will have an opportunity to ask questions of the witness.

After the Hearing Officer has asked questions of the witness, the Charged Student has the right to question the witness as to the facts of the case. All questions should be directed to the Hearing Officer and not to the witness directly.

Next, the Hearing Officer will have an opportunity to follow-up with any questions he/she may have for the witness. If there are no more questions, the Hearing Officer requests for the University official to thank the witness and excuse them. This process is repeated for all witnesses speaking on behalf of the University, as identified in the hearing packet.

(b) The Charged Student now has the right to give his/her account of the case and explain their plea.

NOTE: The Charged Student is not required to provide an account of the case. At no time during the hearing is the advisor permitted to verbally address the Hearing Officer. The advisor may speak with the Charged Student but may not speak for the Charged Student, act as an attorney, nor otherwise participate.

Once the Charged Student has completed his/her statements, the Hearing Officer will now have an opportunity to follow-up with any questions he/she may have for the Charged Student. If there are no more questions for the Charged Student, the Hearing Officer begins the process of calling witnesses speaking on behalf of the Charged Student.

Once the witness has completed his/her statement, the Hearing Officer will have an opportunity to ask questions of the witness.

After the Hearing Officer has asked questions of the witness, the Charged Student has the right to question the witness as to the facts of the case. All questions should be directed to the Hearing Officer and not to the witness directly.

The Hearing Officer will have an opportunity to follow-up with any questions he/she may have for the witness.  If there are no more questions, the Hearing Officer requests for the University official to thank the witness and excuse them. This process is repeated for all witnesses speaking on behalf of the Charged Student.

Once all witnesses have been heard, the Hearing Officer will have another opportunity to ask the Charged Student or the University Official any further questions.

6. FINAL STATEMENTS: Once there are no further questions, the University will be invited to make a brief closing statement. Next, the Charged Student will be invited to make a brief closing statement.

7. CLOSE OF HEARING: The Hearing Officer explains she/he will have five days to reach their decision. The decision of responsibility shall be based solely on the evidence presented by all parties. Possible sanctions will be based on the current conduct case and any file referencing prior misconduct or meetings with the charged student.

NOTE:In cases of alleged violent or injurious behavior (i.e. hazing, fighting, etc.), the complainant's impact statement (if submitted) may be considered when sanctioning is decided.

8. DECISION: The decision will be put in writing by the Hearing Officer and submitted to Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

NOTE: The decision of the Hearing Officer is not a recommendation, it is a determination. The Hearing Officer has the ability to overturn, modify, increase or add additional sanctions in regard to the previous decision made by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

The Charged Student will receive written correspondence of the decision from the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities within ten calendar days following the hearing. If found in violation of a University policy, the Charged Student may appeal the decision of the Conduct Board within five calendar days of the decision to the Dean of Students. The decision of the Dean of Students is the final decision of the University of South Florida or the University of Tampa.


Obtaining a Refund for Tuition or Housing Costs

When you enroll in the university you most likely signed a contract that governs the refund of tuition or housing expenses in the event of disciplinary actions. Unless the student is subsequently found not to be responsible for the violation, no refund usually occurs. An attorney can also help you assert your rights to a fair resolution of all outstanding issues after a disciplinary hearing.


Additional Resources

University Conduct Board of USF - Comprised of faculty, staff and students, the Conduct Board considers cases involving students or organizations that have been charged with a violation of the Student Code of Conduct and demand a formal hearing. The Conduct Board determines whether or not it is reasonable to conclude from the evidence submitted that the student did commit a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. If so, the USF Conduct Board determines the appropriate sanctions to be imposed. The evidence considered by the board including testimony from students and other witnesses and reports. The board is required to honor the confidentiality of the information disclosed. Hearings are scheduled from 8:00am – 5:00pm on Friday and in the mornings on Thursday.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Student Conduct Process at USF - Visit the website of Student Affairs and the Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities at the University of South Florida to find frequently asked questions about admissions of prior conduct, the student code of conduct, complaint procedures, and the University Conduct Board.


Attorneys Defending College Students in Tampa, FL

At the formal hearing, the proposed sanctions can remain the same, increase or decrease in severity. The burden of proof is on the complainant. The standard is the preponderance of the evidence standard. Often you have the right to subpoena witnesses to the hearing to be questioned. You will also often have a right to review the documents that will be submitted to support the allegations. Most importantly, the student has the right to be representing by an attorney who acts as the student's advisor during the process.

Read more about how we represent college students charged with DUI in Tampa and throughout Hillsborough County, FL.

Contact an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm if you are a college student charged with a criminal offense in the greater Tampa Bay area including Hillsborough County, Polk County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, and the surrounding areas. Call us to learn more about the career consequences of a criminal arrest and prosecution.

Let the criminal defense attorneys for USF students at the Sammis Law Firm begin your defense today.

This article was last updated on Tuesday, August 23, 2016.