Representation of California students accused of violating the Student Conduct Code

Defending Against Allegations of Academic Dishonesty, Sexual Harassment or Sexual Violence, or other violations of the Student Conduct Code

Being charged with violating the student code of conduct for cheating, plagiarism, sexual assault, or other misconduct is the most serious thing that can happen to you as a student. Such charges, unless successfully defended, will haunt you for the rest of your life.

Many attorneys claim to be able to represent students charged with violating the student code of conduct. If you talk to someone other than me about representing you, ask them if they have ever succeeded in getting a student accused of plagiarism off. I did, and there are not many attorneys who have had such a successful outcome for a client. I can provide arguably the best defense available for you based on my experience doing so for other students, and the thirty years I spent as a professor at the University of California, where I was on the other side of the hearing table from a student I had turned in to Student Judicial Services for academic dishonesty in one of my classes.

If you admit or are found to have violated the student code of conduct, you will be sanctioned, with penalties ranging up to and including suspension for one or more terms or permanent dismissal from your college or university. Dismissal from one of the UC campuses effectively means that you won’t be able to attend any UC as an undergraduate or after graduation from another school for professional or graduate school, as explained in under the header "6. Dismissal" here. Sanctions will be recorded on your transcript and/or in your disciplinary file, and in the case of some schools will remain there for between five and fifty years, e.g., see 4. on page 18 of the Student Conduct Code here, or even the rest of your life, e.g., see under the header "Expulsion from the University" here.

With no sense of irony, UCSB reports, "If a student who is dismissed has his/her file destroyed after fifty years, the Registrar will be notified to remove the dismissal notation from the transcript." (See 4. on page 18 of the Student Conduct Code here.)

Your disciplinary file will be made available to employers and medical, law, and graduate schools seeking information about applicants. [ See Question 3 here for an example. ] While you need to give permission for release of information in your disciplinary file, you can imagine the consequences of refusing to give that permission on your prospects for getting a job or being admitted to graduate or professional school.

You will have to arrange to have the Dean of Students at your school provide a letter of clearance that verifies that you did not violate any school policy and were not subject to any disciplinary sanctions while a student. [ See here. ] You will need to verify yourself that you have not been sanctioned or asked to resign or withdraw from any educational institution, and have not resigned or withdrawn so to avoid being disciplined for conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation, or deceit. [ See second question on page 2 under heading "DISCIPLINARY HISTORY" here for an example. ]

A clear and direct discussion of the implications of violating the code of student conduct while you are in law school is found under the heading "7. Violation of the Academic Integrity Policy and Bar Admission" here.

Please note that while some schools offer the possibility of having sanctions imposed for violation of the student code of conduct expunged from your record after a few years have passed, expungement will not allow you or your references to answer “no” to questions asking if you have been sanctioned or asked to resign or withdraw from any educational institution, and have not resigned or withdrawn so to avoid being disciplined for conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation, or deceit.

If you answer falsely, and your misrepresentation is discovered after you have been hired, you could be fired and forced to pay back, with interest, any wages you had earned, or dismissed from graduate or professional school with no refund of the fees and tuition you paid. I know of a case where misrepresentation on the graduate school application was discovered 10 years after the applicant had been awarded the Ph.D., in which the university revoked the degree.

Don't go looking for justice at your school's Student Justice System

The US Supreme Court established the rule that a student at a public institution facing disciplinary sanctions has a due process right to notice when the hearing will be held and the due process right to be heard at the hearing. Period. That's it. No other due process rights.

Private universities usually afford students the same rights, although in that case the rights are contractual, not Constitutional due process rights.

But even when your school affords you those two rights, rest assured that what transpires before, at, and after the hearing will likely bear no resemblance to justice.

During February 2023, I represented a student at UCSB before and advised him at his disciplinary hearing. Before the hearing, he was not permitted to invite witnesses to testify on his behalf, despite the fact that the UCSB Student Conduct Code states an accused student must be informed in writing before the hearing of his right to invite witnesses [ See item (iii) on page 10 here ]. Then, at the hearing, a faculty member who initiated charges of misconduct was allowed to testify despite the fact the Conduct Code explicitly prohibited him from testifying. My client's objection to that faculty member testifying was denied by the Hearing Panel Chair, and the Hearing Panel cited that testimony as part of the basis for finding my client responsible for violating the Conduct Code.

Also during February 2023, I represented a student at UCLA before and advised him at his disciplinary hearing. At the hearing, the only witness the Administration put on against him was permitted to testify after it was announced she would not be answering any questions from the hearing panel or from my client. When my client objected, pointing out he the right to "have the opportunity to propose questions to be asked of witnesses who appear at the hearing," [ See first paragraph under "6. Hearing Procedures" here ], the objection was denied by the Hearing Panel Chair

Part of the problem is the Hearing Panel Chairs at UC student disciplinary hearings read from a script written by that campus's Direktor of Student Injustice, who doesn't want the Hearing Panel Chair sustaining objections from my student clients, because often the due process violation that is being objected to was the handiwork of the Direktor, and thus the Direktor doesn't include in the script what the Hearing Panel Chair should say when an objection is made. Because it’s not in the script, the Hearing Panel Chair often looks like a deer caught in the headlights when my client, at my direction, makes an objection to a due process violation of his rights.

At USC, the problems with SJACS are so bad that USC media organs are publishing articles about it, see here and here. BTW, SJACS is now called the Office of Academic Integrity (OAI), but a leopard can't change its spots by calling itself a kitty cat.

And even though most school offer an appeal after you have been found to have violated the Student Conduct Code, good luck with that. I have helped about a dozen students prepare and file their appeals, and not one was successful. You might think that reflects my ability to craft a successful appeal, but as proof that is not the case I offer the fact that after an unsuccessful appeal at UCSB, I persuaded a judge in the Superior Court for the County of Santa Barbara that there was no substantial evidence to support a UCSB hearing panel’s decision that my client had cheated on an assignment in an undergraduate class. The evidence I presented to the judge was pretty much identical to the evidence I presented in the appeal to the Chancellor of UCSB. BTW, the judge ordered The Regents of the University of California to reverse the sanction imposed on my client, suspension for a quarter, and to remove all traces of the finding that he violated the Student Conduct Code from his record, including from his transcript and from his disciplinary file.

What to Do and What Not to Do as You Navigate through the Student Justice System


Many schools have a form available online that professors can present to students when they accuse them of cheating or plagiarizing in their classes. [ See here for an example. ] If you admit that you committed academic dishonesty, that admission is effectively irrevocable. If you decline to admit or deny it and later decide to admit that you did commit academic dishonesty, the consequences of changing your position will be non-existent or minimal.


An attorney may be able to negotiate a settlement with your college whereby you accept a sanction in return for pleading guilty to violating a provision of the code of student conduct. The advantages for you is that you know the outcome in advance, and sometimes the attorney can negotiate a reduction of the sanction and/or of the severity of the offense to which you cop a plea. Additionally, you retain the sole authority to accept or reject the offered deal; if you reject it, nothing is lost.

I have negotiated deals for students where the charges were dropped in return for the student voluntarily withdrawing from the school permanently. While this may seem to be an extreme outcome, the advantage for the student is that because the charges were dropped, there were no charges, so in the future he will be able answer (truthfully) "No" to the question on job applications "Were you ever subject to any disciplinary sanctions while a student?"


Anything you say during such meetings can and will be used against you in subsequent formal proceedings. When I prepare clients to go to such meetings, the client submits a statement in advance of the meeting that contains no incriminating information, and then says nothing at the meeting that’s not in the statement. Sometimes school officials, realizing they won't be able to browbeat a student into confessing when the student shows up for meeting, will dismiss the charges knowing they won't stand up in formal proceedings. If that doesn’t happen, you still will go to hearing without having incriminated yourself.


You must be given a hearing if you demand one. At the hearing, the school will be represented by someone who has years of experience prosecuting students on charges such as cheating, plagiarism and other violations of the code of student conduct. You presumably have no experience in defending yourself against such charges. Plus you're scared, realizing your future is on the line. Which side do you think will present its case effectively?

You need a lawyer to put on a vigorous defense.

Some schools allow an attorney to represent you at the hearing. Other schools only allow an attorney to advise you during the hearing. I have helped students in both situations defend themselves against bogus charges of misconduct.

When students can only be advised by an attorney, I draft, with input from you, your opening statement, your testimony, your questions for witnesses who will testify on your behalf, and your closing argument. I also prepare you to be cross-examined, and I draft the questions for you to ask during cross-examination of the witnesses against you. During the hearing, I modify everything I have prepared for you in response to what actually happens during the hearing, which is pretty much never what we expect to have happen during the hearing, and present it for you in real-time to use when you make your case.

When students can be represented by a lawyer, I prepare everything discussed in the previous paragraph, but I make the opening statement, question witnesses including you, cross-exam adverse witnesses, and make the closing argument. You appear and testify as a witness on your own behalf.

Either way, I allow you to put on a strong defense to maximize your chances of not having a violation of the code of student conduct end up on your transcript, where it may remain for the rest of your life.


Finally, if things go badly at the hearing and you are sanctioned for violating the student code of conduct, there is one last chance. Schools provide for an appeal of the decision that comes out of the hearing. Typically, the appeal is limited to arguing that procedure wasn't followed, the evidence presented doesn't support the decision, new evidence not available at the hearing has come to light, or the sanction is not proportionate to the violation. I can prepare an effective appeal that will maximize the likelihood that the decision will be overturned, or the sanction reduced.

For additional information about seeking judicial relief for an adverse on-campus decision, please click here.


To schedule a free initial consultation, call me at (805) 845-8223, or email me at (please replace the "7" with the "at symbol"), or Click to send me an e-mail.

During the initial consultation, I will gather the relevant facts from you to determine if I can offer legal services that might help you, and then, if you want me to, I will send you a fee agreement showing how much those services would cost you.

I will not offer affirmative advice - do this, don't do that - during the initial consultation. I only do that once you become my client. I don't review documents prior to the initial consultation, I only do that once you become my client. And finally, if your matter does not involve the application of California law or of Federal law to a matter that arose in California, I will inform you during the initial consultation that I cannot provide any advice because by doing so I would be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, which is forbidden by the Rules of Professional Conduct of the California State Bar.

The use of the Internet for communications with me will not establish an attorney-client relationship. Please note that messages containing confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent. Pursuant to Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1-400, the matter herein must be labeled as a newsletter.


Jumping for joy off the Courthouse on Anacapa Street
after a Superior Court judge ordered The Regents to set aside
the decision that my UCSB student-client violated the Student Code of Conduct
and the one-quarter suspension imposed on him based on that decision
Santa Barbara September 7, 2017

Copyright @ Michael J. DeNiro