Prefrosh Preview: Know Your Rights

Update, 11:20 a.m.: Vox would just like to remind readers to check back for changes to the student code of conduct. These changes will eliminate the categories and simplify the code for students.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered by students at Georgetown. What follows is an update from previous posts by John Flanagan. 

Students’ Rights in Dorms

Following the 2013-2014 Residence Hall and Townhouse Occupancy Agreement, University housing is free from search and seizure, though this may be amended by the University at any time per their discretion. Furthermore, the University reserves the right to enter a student’s residence for administrative, safety, and regulatory purposes. Administrative purposes include, but are not limited to “facility repairs; furniture, maintenance and safety inspections; furniture delivery; and general housekeeping.” NB: The Department of Public Safety will search your room if they have reasonable suspicion that you are committing a violation of the Student Code of Conduct, though this does require authorization by Student Affairs staff. Your on-campus housing is University property, not yours. This gives them the right to search your room without a warrant. This measure does not, however, apply to off-campus housing.

An important distinction: if a DPS officer is accompanied by a D.C. Metropolitan police officer or any other officer of the law not directly affiliated with the university, they must either provide a search warrant or obtain your consent to search your dorm room or university apartment. They must also obtain your consent each separate time they go to search your room or apartment—whether they are in your presence or not. But, as above, if it’s just Georgetown DPS officers, they needn’t provide a warrant.

Student Code of Conduct

The University changed its policy on the burden of proof required for on-campus incidents from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing”. This means that at the original hearing, the Residential Judicial Council must find that the student clearly and convincingly committed what they have been accused of. However, for off-campus incidents and alleged sexual assault or misconduct, the burden of proof is still “more likely than not.”

Types of Violations*

Category A: This is the least serious of the violations. These include minor in possession, open container violations, possession of drug paraphernalia or being in the presence of a controlled substance, failure to comply with University personnel, possession of a fake ID, noise violations (especially during quiet hours), violation of party hosting rules, public urination and having a hot tub in a dorm. In most cases these violations will lead to fines, work sanction hours, and educational classes (for instance, redoing Alcohol Edu). However, repeat offenses can lead to party restriction, housing probation, and housing relocation.

Category B: These violations are more serious than Category A. These include giving alcohol to a minor, possession of a dangerous weapon, destruction of University property, harassment, false testimony, violating local laws and statutes, sexual misconduct, stalking, physical assault, and theft. For first time offenses these violations may lead to housing probation, housing relocation, housing suspension, and disciplinary probation. Repeat offenses can also lead to disciplinary suspension.

Category C: These are the most serious violations and will most likely result in immediate suspension or expulsion. These include arson, producing or distributing controlled substances, sexual assault, manufacturing fake IDs, theft (value higher than $500), stalking with intent to harm, and use of a dangerous weapon.

Category A and Category B (in which the defendant admits wrongdoing) violations are usually solved through administrative action, and mainly adjudicated by the Residential Judicial Council, a student-run judicial body. Cases involving Category B and Category C violations in which the student admits no wrongdoing, when a student fails to respond to a complaint, and at the discretion of the Director of Student Life are referred to a Hearing Board, consisting of three students and two faculty/administrators.

*Although this disciplinary system is still in affect at the time of writing, Vox has received word that changes to the system are coming down the pike in recent weeks. Keep your eyes on the blog for further information. 

Hearing Bored

Defendants are given access to case file documents during specified office hours, and the file is considered the sole property of the Office of Student Conduct. Case files will include copies of the Initiation of Judicial Proceedings and all notices issued to the complainant. Defendants may are responsible for providing witnesses, who must present a signed, written summary of their testimony prior to the commencement of the hearing. The burden of proof is consistent with the aforementioned.

Grounds for appeal include substantial procedural error, new evidence of a substantive nature, and substantial disproportionate sanction. A Statement of Appeal must be submitted within seven calendar days of the final decision.

Student Advocacy

The Student Advocacy Office was founded in 2011 in order to help students better understand their rights, to advise students on the appropriate procedures, and in general, to help students “navigate the university disciplinary system.” They also try to push through changes to the student code of conduct, like the change from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing” as outlined earlier. If you find yourself in times of trouble, the SAO holds office hours weekdays from 1 to 5 p.m.

Courtesy of SAO Co-directors Michelle Mohr (COL ’15) and Benjamin Manzione (SFS ’15):  If you are unsure why you received a notice of charges,why you received a particular charge, or if you have any confusion about what the report written by DPS or an RA might say, it is helpful to go to the Office of Student Conduct on the 5th Floor of Leavey to view the report no less than 24 hours before your meeting. The StudentAdvocacy Office can also help you in this regard.

General Guidance

1. If your room is searched by police (other than DPS) or another agent of the state, make it clear both verbally and in written form that you did not consent to the search, and that a warrant must be provided. If it is a University official who is searching your room, be firm but polite—”failure to comply” is, after all, also a violation of the student code of conduct. In all written statements, include that you did not consent to the search, and whether the search was conducted in your presence or not.

2. Do not admit to any crime that you are not being charged with.

3. If DPS or the D.C. Metro police ask you to come down to the station to answer questions or just to chat, remember that you may refuse. Again, the police may tell you that the consequences of your violation may be less severe if you come to see them, but this may not be true. Also remember that these “chats” can be extremely stressful for you, and that  you may end up giving up incriminating information. Once you’re there, you’re on their turf, and that can be intimidating.

4. If you are at a hearing, only answer the question that you are asked. Failure to do so may result in you incriminating yourself.

5. Never take incriminating another student or person lightly. The police or DPS may tell you they’ll let you off if you give them someone else, but they are under absolutely no obligation to keep this promise.

6. If you’re in serious trouble, don’t tell the police about it. Tell a lawyer.

Image by Arthur Lien

3 Comments on “Prefrosh Preview: Know Your Rights

  1. And folks, remember that just because you technically *can* talk back to an RA doesn’t mean you should. Unlike DPS, we can’t search your room ourselves, but we can and will ask you to open doors/fridges/drawers. Refusing to do so does nothing for you, especially if we can smell alcohol–we’re university officials as well, so failure to comply is still a violation that we can write you up for if you piss us off enough. (We’re also allowed to call DPS if you give us trouble.)

    Or better yet, just don’t party in Darnall. That’s what Henle is for.

  2. Also…

    Per Limpuangthip v. U.S. 932 A.2d 1137 (D.C. App. Ct. 2007)*, special police officers (e.g. DPS) are only agents of the state when they are *expressly* acting for the purpose of upholding state law (“invoke state authority in manner, word, or deed”). So, when they accompany an RA or something like that, their search isn’t regulated by 4th Amendment, but they can still turn over all their evidence to the police.

  3. Whats the code of conduct’s policy on “stand your ground?”

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