How the Judicial Process Works

Middlebury strives to respond to alleged violations of Handbook policies with fairness, transparency and consistency. When allegations of serious policy violations arise that do not involve harassment, sexual misconduct, domestic or dating violence or misconduct, or stalking, they are addressed through one of three possible avenues: the Academic Judicial Board (AJB); the Community Judicial Board (CJB); and Disposition Without Hearing (DWH).

Official judicial resolution policies may be found in the Middlebury College Handbook under General Disciplinary Processes. The information below is provided as a supplement in order to familiarize the general Middlebury community with the hearing process for either board, and with the Disposition Without Hearing option.

The judicial process generally follows this sequence:

1. Initiation of Charges
2. Receipt of a Charge Letter
3. Meeting with the Judicial Affairs Officer
4. Respondent Pre-Hearing Preparation
5. Board Member Pre-Hearing Preparation
6. The Hearing
7. Board Deliberations
8. Sanctioning


 

1. Initiation of Charges

When non-academic policy violations are alleged to have taken place, they are generally documented in Incident Reports recorded by Public Safety staff. Sometimes this happens because Public Safety learns of an incident at the time it's taking place and documents what they find, and sometimes Incident Reports are generated when situations come to light after they've already occurred. When the alleged violations are sufficiently grave that some form of official College discipline is a possible outcome, a CJB hearing is scheduled.

Charges of alleged academic dishonesty are generated when a professor becomes concerned that an Honor Code violation may have taken place through his or her own observations, or when a student reports to a professor or a dean that s/he suspects another student of violating the Honor Code. The professor then contacts the judicial affairs officer and relays the information in writing, and the professor notifies the student that s/he has done so.

2. Receipt of a Charge Letter

Students who have been charged with violating Middlebury College Handbook policies are referred to as the "respondents." Each respondent receives a letter from the judicial affairs officer during their meeting detailing the charges against him/her and providing the complete text of the policy the respondent is suspected of violating. In most cases, the letter identifies the two options available to resolve those charges: a hearing with the appropriate judicial board, or in cases where the student does not contest the charges, the option of Disposition Without Hearing.  A copy of this letter is also sent to the respondent's Commons dean.

Normally students may also review all of the evidentiary materials available at that time. In cases in which these materials contain confidential information about other students involved, respondents may review these materials at the office of the judicial affairs officer but will not receive hard copies.

3. Meeting with the Judicial Affairs Officer

Each student who has been charged in an incident generally meets individually with the College's judicial affairs officer. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the possibility of Disposition Without Hearing when appropriate; to make sure the respondent has a clear understanding of their choices to resolve the matter, and how each option works; and to allow the respondent to ask questions of the judicial affairs officer. The judicial affairs officer is available to answer questions throughout the adjudication process.

Disposition Without Hearing

In cases where the facts are not in dispute, and the student is prepared to accept responsibility for their actions, the judicial affairs officer may offer the option of Disposition Without Hearing (DWH). DWH is not akin to the plea bargain option in a United States court of law, whereby a lesser sanction is offered in exchange for an admission of guilt. Rather, the judicial affairs officer offers a sanction meant to approximate the kind of sanction that would be levied by the AJB or CJB. If the student agrees, the sanction is applied, and this process replaces the judicial hearing. No appeal option is available for students who accept DWH. If the student does not wish to accept this sanction, an AJB or CJB hearing will take place. The student may not choose to accept the sanction initially offered through DWH after a hearing has taken place.

Proceeding with a Hearing

If the student chooses to pursue a hearing, the judicial affairs officer will work with the respondent to complete the Confirmation of Judicial Procedures Form. Completing this form together ensures that key aspects of the hearing process are reviewed, and that the respondent is clearly informed about the opportunity to prepare thoroughly for the upcoming hearing. This includes reviewing a hearing's choreography, and identifying potential board members and asking the respondent if they have any concerns about the ability of any of the board members to be fair and impartial in hearing this case. In the event that the respondent expresses concern about a particular board member serving on the hearing panel, if the concern is deemed appropriate, that board member would be excused and an alternate member would be substituted. This meeting is not required by the Middlebury College Handbook, but is offered as a useful resource for students.

4. Respondent Pre-hearing Preparation

Respondents have several areas of preparation prior to a hearing:

  • Advisor: They may select an advisor to join them at the hearing for support. This individual can be any member of the College community. The respondent and advisor sit next to each other throughout the hearing and may communicate privately through notes, but the adviser does not communicate with the board directly or play a formal role in the hearing procedures. The respondent is responsible for making arrangements for their advisor's participation.
  • Character reference: Respondents may also arrange to have a character reference. This individual may appear in person, or may submit a written statement. Written character references may be submitted by any individual the respondent wishes, but character references offered in person may only come from members of the College community. Character references may not make reference to any aspect of the case in question, but are meant to provide general commentary on and examples of the respondent's character. When a written statement is provided, it is read to the board by the judicial affairs officer. The respondent is responsible for making arrangements for their character reference.
  • Opening statement: At the beginning of the hearing, the respondent may share an opening statement which is unrestricted in length or content. This is an opportunity to orient the members of the board to the respondent's thoughts and recollections about the matter at hand, and to share their own version of events.
  • Closing statement: At the end of the hearing, the respondent may share a similarly unrestricted closing statement, offering any final thoughts or information they want to make sure are emphasized or considered by the board.
  • Evidentiary materials: If there are materials that the respondent feels are important to have included in the hearing packet provided to the board, they may submit them for consideration to the judicial affairs officer during the days prior to the hearing. Materials not submitted in advance of the hearing must be submitted to the chair of the board, and may not be approved.

In AJB hearings, the faculty member is present throughout the hearing. Faculty members are invited to give opening statements at the beginning of the hearing, and to share closing thoughts at the end of the hearing. It may be helpful for faculty members to consider in advance how to share their information in a way that the board will understand, especially in cases involving fields such as mathematics, languages, or other areas that lay people may not be able to easily decipher.

5. Board Member Pre-hearing Preparation

In an effort to preserve the integrity of the process, the student, faculty and staff members of the judicial boards are not provided with any information in advance of their arrival at the hearing location about a hearing's topic or participants. As members arrive in the hearing room, each receives a packet of materials including the charge letter, the completed Judicial Procedures Confirmation Form, and any of the additional evidentiary materials. The respondent will have access to all materials provided to board members prior to the hearing, and will have these materials during the hearing. Board members arrive early to review these materials. If a board member learns that they have prior knowledge of the incident in question, or have had previous interactions with the respondent that may compromise impartiality, the board member may recuse themself at that time.

6. The Hearing

When respondents and their advisers arrive at the hearing location, they will be directed to a waiting space. When there are multiple respondents, it is likely that they will all wait in the same location. In cases where there is tension between respondents, an effort is made to provide them with individual waiting spaces, but this is not always possible. Witnesses are also asked to arrive at a designated time and to wait outside the hearing room. In AJB cases, professors arrive at the same time as respondents, and are given a separate waiting space.

Once the board members have reviewed the hearing materials, the judicial affairs officer, who oversees the hearing logistics, will escort the respondent(s) and adviser(s), and in AJB cases, the faculty member, into the hearing room. The hearing generally takes place around a large table: board members sit on one side of the table, and the respondent(s), adviser(s), and judicial affairs officer sit on the other side. In most CJB cases, charges against students are brought by the College, but in cases where a student has allegedly been the victim of another student's policy violation, this student will also be present in the hearing room with an adviser, and will sit on the other side of the judicial affairs officer.

Each judicial board has two co-chairs: a student co-chair, and a staff or faculty member chair. They will generally alternate and serve as chair for every other hearing. When all parties are settled, the chair will begin the hearing by activating the recording device, and reviewing a script of preliminary instructions, including the following:

  • Acknowledgment that the hearing is being recorded
  • Affirmation that the hearing is confidential
  • Introductions of all participants, including board members, respondents, advisers, judicial affairs officer
  • Clarification that a judicial hearing is not a court of law, and that its goal is fundamental fairness
  • Request that all board members state their name once again, and that each one affirm "I can be fair and impartial." Second invitation to the respondent to challenge the presence of any board members based on their ability to be fair and impartial (this option is first raised during the completion of the Judicial Procedures Confirmation Form).
  • Affirmation that honesty is expected of all who testify, and that dishonesty on the part of the respondent could result in additional charges.
  • Review of procedures, and opportunity for respondent to ask procedural questions.
Opening Statements:

The respondents are invited to read opening statements in which they may share whatever they wish the board to know about their actions as they relate to the charges against them. As noted above, opening statements are unrestricted in length or content. In AJB cases, the faculty member is also invited to give an opening statement.

Questioning the Respondents:

Once the opening statements are finished, members of the board will ask questions of the respondent(s), and in AJB hearings, the faculty member, based on the opening statement(s) and on the hearing materials. The questioning process is facilitated by the board chair, and the questions are asked in no particular order. The tone of all communications in a hearing is very respectful.

Witnesses:

After the board has questioned the respondent(s), witnesses will be brought in one at a time; some witnesses may testify by speaker phone. Before each witness testifies, the chair will review the expectation of honesty; request that the witness honor the confidentiality of the hearing by not discussing its content; and acknowledge that the hearing is being recorded. The witnesses will be asked to contribute whatever relevant information they possess, and board members will question them as needed. Once the board has finished questioning a witness, the respondent may question the witness as well. They will be directed to do so through the board chair rather than speaking directly to witnesses.

Final Questions for Respondents:

Once all witness testimony has been heard, the board will ask any remaining questions of the respondent.

Character Witness:

At this point, the respondent character witness will be heard, either through an in-person statement, or through the reading of a written statement.

Closing Statements:

Finally, in AJB cases, the faculty member will be invited to share any closing thoughts, and each respondent will have an opportunity to make a closing statement. This is a final invitation to share any mitigating circumstances, to comment on the preceding testimony, or to articulate any additional information the respondent would like the board to consider in its deliberations. Again, closing statements are unrestricted in content or length.

After the closing statement, faculty members, respondents and advisers are excused, and the recording device is turned off. The respondent may leave the building until an outcome has been reached, at which point they will be summoned to return to the hearing room.

7. Board Deliberations

The board must deliberate as a group in order to determine whether to find the respondents responsible for violating the Handbook policies listed in the charge letter. The judicial board's evidentiary standard is "preponderance of evidence," that is, that it is more likely than not that the student has violated policy. Reaching an outcome may happen swiftly, or may involve lengthy group discussion. When the board members feel ready, they will vote on each charge. Handbook regulations require that if more than one member does not feel there is a preponderance of evidence that the policy has been violated, the respondent is found not responsible. If the respondent is not held responsible for any of the charges, all record of the hearing will be removed from the student's file. If the respondent is found responsible for violating Handbook policy, the board must then develop an appropriate sanction.

8. Sanctioning

Once a respondent is held responsible for violating policy, the board members are apprised by the judicial affairs officer of any previous conduct issues and outcomes. Because discipline is cumulative at Middlebury, this means that the same violation might result in very different outcomes for two students with differing disciplinary records. The board will take into account the particular circumstances of each respondent and each case in developing a sanction, and sanctions may include multiple components. The Middlebury Handbook includes detailed information on possible sanctions for academic and non-academic offenses under Judicial Boards and Procedures.