Last Updated on September 13, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
One problem many parents and students don’t think about when a student is up for expulsion or suspension is: what about the witnesses? What if the witnesses lied? What if a parent just thinks the witnesses lied? Can a parent or student talk negatively about discipline witnesses? Can someone be called a “nark,” a “snitch,” or a “liar” to stop them from testifying at a student expulsion hearing?
Unfortunately this could be conduct that could be construed as “witness intimidation” which is strictly prohibited by the student facing suspension or expulsion, and could bring another discipline charge against the student.
Education Code Prohibits Witness Harassment or Intimidation
Per Education Code section 48900(o) witnesses to a school discipline matter cannot be threatened, harassed, or intimidated because they are, or were, witnesses.
Specifically, per this section, a student can be suspended or expelled if they:
Harassed, threatened, or intimidated a pupil who is a complaining witness or a witness in a school disciplinary proceeding for purposes of either preventing that pupil from being a witness or retaliating against that pupil for being a witness, or both.
Students Contacting Students to Investigate
Section 48900(o) creates a tricky situation if a student is trying to gather evidence to defend himself in a pending expulsion matter. For, what if the student calls a friend who is a “witness” against them to ask about their testimony, or question the student on what they saw (e.g. for their defense)?
Most students and parents don’t ask how such witness contact may be perceived by their school.
Chances are the student “witness” may feel pressured, upset, or even threatened merely by a phone call from a student they “told” on. As such, contacting witnesses is a dangerous activity for an accused student.
Names of Witnesses Usually Withheld so Intimidation May Be Unintentional
To complicate matters, often the names of the witnesses in student suspension or expulsion matters are not disclosed to the accused student or their family, so when a student randomly calls a “friend” for help or otherwise, the student may actually be calling a witness in the matter against them without knowing it. The student may then, unintentionally intimidate or be perceived as making threats toward the student witness, if discussing the pending expulsion!
If a student breaches §48900(o) or is even perceived as having breached it via contact with a witness, they may be charged under 48900(o) with a violation and disciplined.
Social Media Witness Intimidation
What if students not accused of a wrong go on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), or just talk amongst themselves, about how “bad” another student who “told” is and/or make threats to beat the student witness up (knowing or not knowing the witnesses identity)? This could land the students talking in hot water with the school or other authorities. There are sometimes media reports of arrests of students threatening other students.
Parents Should Contact Witnesses Parents for Permission
To remedy this, it is important that accused students do NOT discuss their allegations, accusers, witnesses, or otherwise. Their parents should be the only ones to talk about the matter. If witnesses could be contacted, the parents need to do the contacting. And, if a witness is a student, contact should only be made through that student’s parents first. If the parents deny interaction, the matter is over.
The bottom line is that if a student, teacher, or other person provides information about a discipline matter, they should not to be threatened or intimidated. However, what may be a witness “threat” or “intimidating” to them can be a vague matter at best. Tread lightly!
[originally written March 19, 2013]
Student expulsion, suspension and discipline lawyer Michelle Ball assists parents across California, from Redding to Shasta, Elk Grove to Roseville, Los Angeles to Burbank, San Francisco to Santa Rosa, and all cities throughout the state.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.