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Know the law: College students face criminal and educational sanctions

Across the U.S., many colleges are under the spotlight for claims of sexual assault. Not only is there concern over the frequency of these claims, but school administrators are facing increasing pressure when it comes to disciplinary actions. People want to see justice, and in many cases, the public is deciding the accuser is guilty before the case even makes its way through trial.

For college students accused of such crimes, it is important to have a basic understanding of the potential charges and consequences -- both from a school and criminal standpoint.

In Maryland, there are varying degrees for sexual offenses. The consequences increase with the severity of the accusations. In some cases, a conviction can mean life in prison, while for others -- like a fourth degree sexual offense -- the typical sentence is no more than one year in jail with a fine of no more than $1,000.

However, for college students the potential consequences do not start and stop in the courts. Rather, when a college student is accused of sexual assault, not only is he or she facing criminal consequences, but there are also potential school consequences. This means that in addition to having to go through the criminal court system, the student will also most likely face college honor code violation accusations. Being found guilty by the board can result in suspension or expulsion, with a black mark on the student's permanent record. This -- compounded by possible criminal sanctions -- can negatively impact a young person's future, including housing, educational and employment opportunities, for the rest of their life.

Why you need an attorney

Whether the accusation is related to a sexual offense, drug charge -- or any type of activity that violates the school's honor code -- those preparing to go before the board need to treat the entire process very seriously. One may mistakenly think that an honor code violation is not as severe as a criminal charge, but the truth is that both have the potential to negatively hurt a person's future for years to come.

For someone in his or her late teens or early 20s, the last thing anyone wants is to start adulthood off on the wrong foot. This being said, keep in mind that in the U.S. a person is innocent until proven guilty. This means that just because the accusation is out there, it does not mean that the student committed the crime.

Charles L. Waechter is a criminal defense attorney in the Baltimore area who understands just how devastating accusations can be to a college student. For more than 30 years, he has been aggressively defending the rights of students to protect their futures.

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