Robert Shibley on the Right to an Attorney in Campus Courts

By on July 25, 2013

In an article for Durham, N.C.’s The Herald-Sun published Wednesday, FIRE’s Robert Shibley (who lives in North Carolina) explains why public university students need lawyer advocates in campus disciplinary hearings, and why the North Carolina State Senate should act now to protect student rights.  Robert explains that as North Carolina law stands now, college students are alone in their lack of legal representation: Every K–12 student in North Carolina’s public schools is guaranteed the right to a lawyer when facing suspension or expulsion. But on our state’s public college campuses, that right evaporates. …And while students in the UNC system can’t have a lawyer represent them when accused of crimes, there’s no such restriction on administrators. In fact, nothing prevents a UNC campus from staffing the hearing process entirely with lawyers, leaving an accused teenager as the only person in the room without a law degree. This is especially dangerous where the outcomes of campus disciplinary hearings can have such a significant impact on a student’s life. As Robert argues: Students may be tried in campus courts for theft, assault, rape and other felony crimes. Being labeled a felon and kicked out by your school carries serious, life-altering consequences. Not only does it change the course of one’s education and career, but it also makes it highly difficult to get jobs that don’t require a college degree. Why should an employer take a chance on a “proven” rapist or thief? The same goes for transferring to other colleges, of course.And don’t forget, nothing prevents criminal prosecutors from using statements made in college courts against the accused in criminal proceedings. Without a lawyer during these campus hearings, many students are unknowingly giving up their Fifth Amendment rights. Read the whole piece at The Herald-Sun.