Allegations of fighting or assaults in a college environment are taken very seriously. Students alleged to have been involved in such fights often find themselves defending themselves on two fronts: 1) in the criminal justice system, and 2) in the WSU student disciplinary process. The processes are totally separate, and so let’s talk a little bit about each process in turn.
1. Assault Charges in Court in Pullman / Colfax
In a court of law the participants of the case are the police, the prosecuting attorney, the victim, and the defendant. The school is not a participant. If you are charged with a crime, you are ultimately judged by a jury of the citizens of Whitman County. Most of the jurors are not from Pullman and are not affiliated with the school. The jurors come from all over the county and are from such towns as Colfax, St. John, Rosalia, Albion, etc. The burden of proof in such cases is beyond a reasonable doubt. You will be judged as to whether you have violated the Washington State criminal code on assault, e.g. RCW 9A.36.021 and 9A.36.041. The jurors typically hold the prosecuting attorney to his high burden of proof, and jurors are receptive to claims of self defense or even provocation.
2. The WSU Student Disciplinary Process on Assault Allegations
Irrespective of what the judge or jury decides in your criminal case, the WSU Office of Student Standards and Accountability will make their own decision as to whether you violated student policy. If an assault occurs, a student usually is cited with a violation of WAC 504-26-204 (Abuse of self or others). In this student disciplinary context, WSU need not prove that you violated the policy beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather the school’s burden is just to prove the offense by a “preponderance of the evidence.” Many students hire lawyers to defend themselves in the student disciplinary process. While the lawyer is usually not allowed to speak, he or she is allowed to give guidance to his client along the way and may propose that certain questions be asked of the witnesses. Compared to the rural jurors of Whitman County, the school officials take a more narrow view of self-defense. The more serious the altercation the more likely it will be that the student will be expelled. Even if a student is found to be “not guilty” in the court of law, he or she can still be expelled from the university. It is important to find a defense lawyer who has a lot of skill and experience in defending students against disciplinary charges.
As a defense lawyer who defends criminal charges and also defends student disciplinary charges, I know that it is important to try to get a lawyer to assist as soon as possible. This is true because the student disciplinary process can often move quite quickly. If a student provides a statement to the school officials, that statement could be used against the student in the criminal court. Additionally there are also a lot of important deadlines that must be met or a student can forever lose his right to appeal his or her expulsion.