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New Arkansas Law Gives Students Right to Counsel in Disciplinary Appeals

By April 10, 2015

In 2013, FIRE celebrated North Carolina’s law that made it the first state in the nation to give students at its public colleges and universities the right to hire lawyers for active representation in non-academic suspension and expulsion hearings. Arkansas took an important step in that direction when the bipartisan HB 1892, sponsored by Representative Grant Hodges (R) and Representative Warwick Saban (D), became law this week.

The new law grants students at public institutions of higher education the right to active assistance of legal counsel during the campus appeals process:

A student enrolled at a state-supported institution of higher education who has received a suspension of ten (10) or more days or expulsion may request a disciplinary appeal proceeding and choose to be represented at the student’s expense by a licensed attorney or, if the student prefers, a non-attorney advocate who, in either case, may fully participate during the disciplinary appeal proceeding used by the state-supported institution of higher education … .

FIRE is excited to see another legislature recognize that students should have access to the active assistance of counsel when faced with the possibility of suspension or expulsion.

While this legislation is an important step towards providing students with meaningful due process, it is important to note that, unlike the legislation in North Carolina, Arkansas’s right to counsel does not kick in until the appeals phase of campus discipline. This is less than ideal for two reasons: First, it leaves students unrepresented during the initial hearing, even though statements students make during those hearings may be used against them in subsequent criminal trials. Second, it’s common for institutions to severely limit the grounds of an appeal, meaning that a legal advocate at that stage may have less ability to combat unjust results and make the best possible case.

That said, FIRE is very grateful to Representatives Hodges and Saban for their advocacy on behalf of students’ due process rights, and we are thankful for all the lawmakers who helped pass this important new law.