North Carolina now the first state to give college students the right to an attorney

college degree booksNorth Carolina college students still have to worry about paying for textbooks and waking up in time for class, but thanks to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, they no longer have to face disciplinary charges from their universities without representation.

On Friday, McCrory signed a landmark piece of legislation, the “Students and Administration Equality Act,” that ensures public university students the right to an attorney in campus courts.

“Students across America are regularly tried in campus courts for serious offenses like theft, harassment, and even rape,” said Robert Shibley, who is Vice-President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that helped to pass the law. “Being labeled a felon and kicked out by your college carries serious, life-altering consequences. Because the stakes are so high, students should have the benefit of an attorney to ensure the hearing is conducted fairly and by the rules.”

With the signing of this law, North Carolina becomes the first state in the country to guarantee these legal protections to public university students. The new law ensures that students who face disciplinary charges on campus are entitled to have an attorney or a similar advocate present at their hearing.

Though the law is unique to North Carolina, it passed with broad bipartisan support. The law was co-sponsored by multiple Republicans and Democrats, and passed the North Carolina legislature by a 112-1 vote on May 15. After some alterations, it was included in the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, which passed on July 26.

According to Joe Cohn, the Legislative and Policy Director at FIRE, the law will ‘level the playing field’ for students when it comes to the disciplinary process.

“For many students, especially first-generation college students or those who might come from disadvantaged backgrounds, facing down a room full of deans, administrators, and university lawyers when accused of a campus crime is a hugely intimidating task,” said Cohn. “Giving these students access to legal representation levels the playing field and, especially given the importance of college education in one’s life and career, could make a difference that will last a lifetime.”

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