Remember the Rights of the Accused in Massachusetts

June 15, 2015

In today’s Cognoscenti, the ideas and opinion online page of Boston’s WBUR NPR news station, FIRE co-founder and chairman Harvey Silverglate urges the Massachusetts legislature to remember the rights of the accused and pass S. 670. S. 670, a bill sponsored by state Senator Barbara L’Italien, would give students faced with felony-like charges in college disciplinary hearings the right to hire counsel for active representation.

Harvey puts the reader in the shoes of a college student accused of a serious offense and poses an important question:

Imagine you’ve been accused of a very serious crime and are set to stand trial. If convicted, this case will follow you for the rest of your life, so you prepare; you hire the best lawyer you can afford and together, you and she conceive of your best possible defense. Now imagine that on the first day of trial, you learn that your lawyer is not allowed to speak; she’s to be an “advisor,” not an advocate. How well do you think you’d present your own defense?

Unfortunately, this is the reality for students all across the country. But the Massachusetts legislature is in a position to protect students from the “reality of shadow criminal justice systems on our campuses” by advancing this sorely needed legislation. As Harvey points out, since campus tribunals are here to stay, allowing students to have active representation of counsel is “the least we can do to assure some semblance not only of justice, but also of accurate outcomes.”