On Aug. 23, Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Students and Administration Equality Act (SAE Act), which guarantees students the right to a representative in criminal trials — at the student’s expense.
The law does not apply to trials run by an entirely student staff, so students will not be able to hire an attorney to represent them in front of Honor Court. However, most non-academic cases, such as those concerning sexual assault, will fall under the jurisdiction of a committee separate from the Honor Court composed of faculty and staff as well as students. These are the cases that are affected by the new law.
This new law has good intent, but it provides no funding for students who cannot afford to hire an attorney. This discrepancy will leave low-income students to fend for themselves, sometimes against classmates who have the ability to afford representation by a skilled attorney.
To level the playing field, the University should seek out firms to represent these students pro bono. Until then, students that can not afford an attorney should be paired with law school students willing to volunteer as representatives in exchange for credit hours.
The SAE Act was created after the former president of a fraternity at UNC-Wilmington protested the administration’s intimidating tactics against students and hindrance of due process that eventually led to the suspension of the fraternity.