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I’m a College Student. How Will a Florida Arrest Impact My Education?

There’s no question that having a criminal record can be a substantial impediment to a person’s future. But how might a Florida arrest impact your education if you’re a college student?

As a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer, I have represented college students from a range of Florida universities and colleges. Schools like the University of South Florida, University of Miami, University of Florida, and Florida State University all have similar policies and procedures that dictate how they handle violations of the student conduct code. You don’t need to be arrested by the campus police in order to face university sanctions. Violation of local, state, or federal laws can trigger repercussions from the school of higher education.

For example, the University of Florida’s Student Honor Code and Student Conduct Code stipulate that students accept the responsibility to abide by a code of ethical conduct when they accept admission. They must follow all laws and regulations. The school reserves the right to apply these codes to off-campus conduct that has the potential to negatively impact the health, safety, or welfare of people, property, the university community, or the pursuit of the university’s objectives. Conduct that violates these codes - no matter where the offense occurred - can result in university discipline.
How Florida Schools Handle Discipline for Criminal Allegations

If you’re a Florida college student who has been arrested, anticipate the potential of facing consequences from at least 2 angles: The criminal case and then the school’s case. Although they are carried out by different bodies, they can end up impacting each other. Evidence gathered by one could potentially be used by the other - which is why it’s a good idea to have a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney to represent you through both processes.

At the school, there’s typically a conduct committee that will oversee the process, gather information, question witnesses, decide what evidence is admissible and relevant, conduct hearings, and make decisions about responsibility and possible sanctions.

Of course, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of criminal law. But colleges have different rules.

Depending on the offense, a college or university may take immediate punitive action - and they aren’t required to meet the same proof burden as prosecutors. Whereas criminal courts must find a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, school conduct committees typically use a standard of “preponderance of the evidence.” It’s a lower proof burden - the same one used in civil cases - which basically means, “more likely than not.”

Throughout the process of evidence gathering, hearing, and decision - parents might not be notified at all until it’s over, even if the student is under the age of 21. Parents, even when they’re footing the bill for their child’s college, are more often than not the last to learn about allegations.

Common College Student Offenses in Florida

Some Florida crimes of which college students may be accused that might spur a university code of conduct investigation/hearing:

  • Alcohol-related offenses. These include DUI, underage possession or consumption, distribution or sale of alcoholic beverages to someone under 21, possession of common source containers (kegs, mini-kegs, tubs, etc.), and public intoxication.
  • Drug violations. Drug charges for possession, manufacturing, distribution, or sale of a controlled substance are offenses that typically violate campus rules as well as Florida law.
  • Disorderly conduct. A breach of the peace per F.S. 877.03 can include public intoxication, but might also include charges associated with campus demonstrations and protests, brawling, fighting, etc.
  • Assault and battery. Unwanted conduct that causes physical injury usually violates college conduct codes. Assault is prohibited under state law in F.S. 784.011 and battery under F.S. 784.03.
  • Theft. Stealing public or private property is a crime, and a violation of university student conduct codes.
  • Voyeurism. Prohibited in F.S. 810.14, peeping, spying, or recording another person in any place where there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy violates school rules as well.
  • Stalking/cyberstalking. Such conduct is against the law in Florida, but also runs afoul of university rules - particularly when the victim is also a member of that school community.
  • Sexual misconduct. College students arrested for sexual assault or sexual battery under Chapter 794 of Florida Statutes can anticipate a university investigation will be forthcoming. Those found responsible are likely to face long-term suspension or expulsion.

Accused students typically have the right to have any advisor or support person with them during any meeting. It’s a good idea to hire a criminal defense lawyer to advise you through this process. If they’re defending you on the criminal charges, they will recognize what sorts of evidence could be potentially damaging to your pending criminal case.

Can a Criminal Record Hurt My Admissions Chances?

In short: Yes. Your criminal arrest history is part of your public record. It may not be a primary consideration by admissions offices, but if it’s between you and another prospective student, it could certainly tip the scales.

In one analysis by the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 66 percent of colleges and universities ask prospective students about their criminal record as part of the standard application process. More than one-third of those reported denying admission to prospective students because of criminal history.

When asked the reason for this practice, most universities will cite the potential for safety threats on campus. But when you actually look at the research, colleges and universities that admit students with a criminal record don’t have higher crime levels than those that don’t.

Some institutions are required by law to ask. For a long time though, most did so because they relied on a system called the Common App to screen prospective students. For years, questions about criminal convictions were standard on the Common App. That ended in 2018, when the company that provides the software for student screening dropped it at the request of the DOE.

Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent

Your federal and state constitutional rights include the right to remain silent, with the understanding that anything you say - to pretty much anyone, not just police - can be used against you in court.

With school disciplinary hearings, it’s a little different. The conduct committee may compel you to speak about the allegations, and failure to do so may potentially be construed as obstruction, and the end result might be adverse disciplinary action from the school. But, depending on the charges you’re facing, that might be a price worth paying to protect your freedom in the criminal case. Because if you speak during the disciplinary hearing, those statements could be used against you in criminal court. Again, this is why it’s good to have a criminal defense lawyer involved.

In general, it’s a good idea to stay tight-lipped about any pending cases - with the school or court. That applies not just to police, investigators, and school authorities, but also other students, friends, co-workers, professors, etc. This includes correspondence about the allegations via text message, social media post, email, voicemail, etc. Most of these conversations are not “privileged,” meaning those people could be called to testify or that evidence could be subpoenaed for review.

If you have been arrested in South Florida, call The Ansara Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.

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