Plain Language Distinction between NYS Penal Law and College Disciplinary Process
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Plain Language Distinction between NYS Penal Law and College Disciplinary Process

Published: October 28, 2015

Plain Language Distinction between NYS Penal Law and College Disciplinary Process

empty Criminal Justice System College/University Disciplinary System
Goals Public safety, deterrence, and punishment. Education; safety; safe and supportive campus environment.
Governing Law New York State Penal Code; New York State Rules of Criminal Procedure (or another state’s rules if the crime took place there), Federal Criminal Law, and Rules of Evidence. Title IX; The Clery Act as amended by the Violence Against Women Act; NYS Education Law sections 129-A and 129-B. More specific rules govern particular colleges and universities.
How to report and whether there must be action once a report is made Crimes involving sexual violence may be reported to campus police (if the campus has police officers), the local police agency, or to the New York State Police. Certain crimes may also be reported to federal law enforcement agents. Once a report is made, the decision whether to investigate is made by the police/law enforcement agency, often in consultation with a District Attorney or other prosecuting agency. An investigation may be conducted without the consent or participation of a reporting individual. The ultimate decision of whether to initiate a criminal prosecution is initially made by a prosecutor. In cases involving felony charges, the final charging decision is made by a Grand Jury. Victims may disclose sexual violence to various college employees who are designated confidential resources or to others who will try to ensure privacy to the extent consistent with the institution’s obligation to provide a safe educational environment. Disclosures made to a confidential resource will not trigger an investigation. When a report is made to the Title IX Coordinator (TIXC) or another Non-Confidential resource, the TIXC will determine whether an investigation is necessary by weighing a request for confidentiality by the reporting individual against the continuing safety of that person and the safety and best interests of the campus community.
Who investigates? Police or other law enforcement officials. Investigators employed or retained by the college or university; these individuals may work for different departments within the institution, including, but not limited to, the police/public safety department, student affairs and academic affairs.
Procedures See Governing Law. Procedures established by police departments, prosecutors’ offices, etc. College/University policies and Bylaws, which generally incorporate requirements of Governing Law. Collective bargaining agreements may impact some procedures.
Standard of Evidence Crimes must be proven “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.” A violation of disciplinary rules must be found by a “Preponderance of the Evidence” (more likely than not).
Confidentiality Law enforcement agencies offer some confidential assistance, but a criminal charge and trial must be public. Colleges and universities offer confidential resources, but a disciplinary proceeding requires that relevant information be shared with those involved.
Privacy Criminal trials must be public. Disciplinary proceedings are kept as private as possible, but information must be shared with certain individuals within the college, the parties, and pursuant to law.
Who are the parties? The prosecution and defendant. The victim/survivor is not a party, but often the critical witness for the prosecution. Varies by school—some consider the institution and the respondent to be parties, and confer on the reporting individual certain rights to participate, as the law provides. Otherwise, reporting individual and accused/respondent.
Participation in the process. In limited circumstances, a criminal prosecution can proceed without the participation or cooperation of the reporting individual, but without a reporting individual’s participation, it is generally more difficult to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Reporting students cannot be required to participate in the college process. However, a college will be limited in its ability to respond if a reporting individual does not participate.
Who initiates the proceedings? A prosecutor, acting on behalf of the state (or the United States in federal cases). The college or university initiates proceedings. While rules vary from school to school, they most provide an active role for the reporting individual.
Testimony In a court, testimony is generally public. Other parties are, through counsel, entitled to cross-examine witnesses. The rules are established by individual colleges and universities, but some institutions provide for alternative approaches that permit students to testify without having other parties in the room and/or to ask cross-examination questions only through the disciplinary panel, investigator, or representative of the reporting individual and/or respondent.
Role of attorneys Both the state and the defendant are represented by counsel; counsel may question witnesses. Varies by school. Many permit the parties to be advised by attorneys but some limit the attorney's’ roles to quietly speaking with their clients or passing notes.
Mental Health and Sexual History In New York, a reporting individual’s prior sexual and mental health history is generally, but not always, inadmissible in a criminal case. There are limited circumstances under which directly relevant evidence of that kind may be admitted. Generally not admissible, but subject to quite limited exceptions. Education Law 129-b permits parties to exclude information about their prior sexual history with persons other than the other party and also to exclude evidence of their own mental health history in the fact finding phase of the disciplinary process.
Possible Results

If a prosecution takes place, the defendant may

  • plead guilty or “no contest”
  • have the case dismissed by the judge (on legal grounds)
  • be found “guilty” or “not guilty” by a judge or jury

In cases that do not involve sexual assault, some schools permit mediation or similar procedures if parties agree.

If there is a formal proceeding, the respondent may be found “responsible” or “not responsible” for violations of the institution’s rules. Respondents may also accept responsibility before a finding by an adjudicator.


An individual found guilty may be fined, imprisoned, or both. In some courts, alternative sanctions are sometimes used.

An individual found responsible for violating college policy may be given a range of sanctions (depending on the severity of the conduct and other factors, such as prior judicial history), ranging from a warning to suspension or expulsion from the institution.