In January, 9 students were charged with hazing which resulted in the death of Andrew Coffey, a junior at FSU who was pledging Pi Kappa Phi. Five of the students chose to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in order to avoid up to five years in prison if convicted on felony hazing charges. The other four individuals charged are awaiting trial. Their cases are currently on hold.
The tragedy of the young loss of life is clear — and yet, it’s also tragic to see 9 other young men have their futures possibly ruined because of poor choices made in an environment full of peer pressure.
Campus Crimes: Disciplinary Hearings
College can be a time of exploration. For many young adults, it’s the first time they’ve left the family home. With that first leap comes plenty of responsibility, and some students don’t make the best choices with their new found freedom. This can lead to young people making mistakes that have grievous consequences for their futures.
Campus crimes like hazing, theft, underage drinking, and others can impact more than just grades — they can jeopardize an individual’s college career and throw a student’s entire future into question. When faced with such serious consequences, seeking legal advice from a skilled Tampa defense lawyer isn’t just smart, it’s a necessity.
Many colleges have their own police forces and systems for reporting crimes on campus. In addition, some colleges choose to handle certain offenses in-house rather than bringing them to the attention of the local police. For example, some institutions may handle underage drinking charges in-house rather than getting the police involved and may even “prosecute” sexual assault allegations on campus. They’ll follow their own established disciplinary procedures and the accused student will be punished or offer the appropriate restitution. Students found “guilty” may end up with a mark on their academic record or may even be expelled, but they generally won’t face any legal repercussions or get a criminal record. However, your chances of transferring to another school or seeking graduate degrees will be diminished if found guilty.
Different colleges handle disciplinary issues in different ways, and the crimes they choose to report to authorities also vary based on the institution. This can create a lot of confusion surrounding campus crime and the rights of the accused.
Ultimately, the process of a school disciplinary hearing differs from that of a legal trial. Whereas in a courtroom, there is a notion of justice and protecting the rights of both parties, in a university disciplinary hearing the victim and the university often come first. Don’t be fooled by egalitarian language touting the fairness of university disciplinary hearings — seek legal help.
Many disciplinary hearings at particular institutions do allow for legal representation, and it is often in the student’s best interest to have legal counsel to make sure their rights are protected throughout the process. If you or your loved one are facing an upcoming disciplinary hearing, consult with a skilled Tampa campus crimes lawyer to learn more about the process and what you can expect.
Campus Crimes: Hazing
While hazing deaths often garner national media attention, less severe infractions are not generally publicized. Universities have the option of using their own proprietary disciplinary procedures and hearings, however, they can also turn the cases over to Florida authorities. When hazing results in death, prosecutors will take over the investigation.
In Florida, hazing can be tried as a felony or a misdemeanor. The statute defines hazing as “any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student for purposes including, but not limited to, initiation or admission into or affiliation with any organization operating under the sanction of a postsecondary institution.” Under this law, hazing can include both physical punishments such as hitting or forcing a pledge to drink to excess as well as actions that impact a students mental and emotional well-being, such as sleep deprivation or extreme embarrassment.
Hazing is no longer tolerated in Florida and organizations found to still be practicing it are often shut down.
Campus Crimes: Drug & Alcohol Crimes
Drug crimes (such as the possession, use, or sale of illegal substances like marijuana, heroin, and other classified drugs) and alcohol crimes (such as underage drinking or supplying a minor with alcohol) can lead to charges through a school disciplinary hearing. Depending on the scope, charges may be referred to local authorities. For example, a student running a large-scale drug operation may be referred for prosecution and expelled from the school. Smaller crimes such as underage drinking or the use of an illegal substance are typically handled in-house and may require seeking some form of treatment.
Campus Crimes: Dating Violence & Sexual Assault
Dating violence is covered in Section 784.046 of the Florida Statutes. It’s defined as violence between two parties who are currently involved in or who have previously had a romantic or intimate relationship.
Dating violence can include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, such as:
- Hitting, pushing, slapping, choking, and punching.
- Making threats and stalking.
- Unwanted touching or forced sexual acts.
Sexual assault or rape, which can occur as part of dating violence, is also its own separate crime and is punished harshly in educational environments.
In cases of dating violence and sexual assault, it is often up to the victim whether they want to pursue justice under the auspices of the school’s disciplinary hearings or the criminal justice system. Universities, however, are more intent now on creating a safe space for students, and some of their federal funding is tied to their ability to ensure that students are not being sexually harassed or assaulted.
For those accused of dating violence or sexual assault, that means it is imperative that you seek legal counsel to help shepherd you through whichever process your accuser chooses to work within.
Charged With a Campus Crime? Hire a Lawyer!
Have you or someone you love been charged with a campus crime like hazing or dating violence? These sorts of charges can derail your future. Make sure you’re prepared to protect yourself — hire a qualified Florida defense lawyer.
Too often, students trust their academic institutions to create a fair disciplinary environment, thinking that it is will be similar to the criminal justice system. However, universities don’t have an obligation to provide the same protections as the criminal justice system and they are often biased in their own interests and towards accusers or victims. Don’t fall prey to this train of thought — contact Mike G. Law to protect your rights.