The accused student is provided at least five business days’ notice prior to the hearing in order to provide adequate time for preparation. The Honor System office will provide the student with a written Notice to Appear at the hearing, specifying the date and time of the hearing. Hearings are held in closed session, meaning they are not open to the public, unless the student requests an open hearing in writing in advance of the hearing. Open hearings are open to the public and the press in accordance with the North Carolina Open Meetings Law. All hearings are recorded to preserve a record in case of appeal. In addition to the court members, the accused student, the defense counsel, and the investigator are present throughout all phases of the hearing. In cases involving certain offenses, the reporting party may remain throughout the hearing.
Students may plead not guilty, guilty, or they may enter no plea, which will result in the default entry of a not guilty plea. The type of plea entered can affect the type of hearing held:
Not Guilty Hearing - In a hearing in which the student decides to plead not guilty, five Honor Court members determine guilt or innocence, and if necessary, an appropriate sanction.
Expedited Hearing Process - If a student wishes to take responsibility and does not plan to challenge the evidence, he or she may participate in an Expedited Hearing Process. In this hearing, three Honor Court members hear the case and determine the appropriate sanction for the offense. The Student Attorney General must agree to grant a student an Expedited Hearing Process if one is desired; otherwise, an accused student can still plead guilty and have a hearing under the procedures of a regular Honor Court hearing.
Full Guilty Plea - In a hearing in which the student wishes to plead guilty, but perhaps disagrees with a portion of the evidence, five Honor Court members hear the case and thoroughly review the record in light of the student's concerns.
Honor Court Alternative Resolution - If a student is charged with certain conduct violations, he or she may be granted an Honor Court Alternative Resolution hearing. In this hearing, the Honor Court Chair and one Honor Court Vice-Chair hear the case and determine the appropriate sanction for the offense. The accused student may choose to accept or reject the sanction(s) offered by the HCAR panel. If the student does not accept the sanctions, the case will be rescheduled for an Expedited Hearing Process.
All hearings begin with introductions of all participants involved and a review of whether each Honor Court member has prior knowledge of the case and whether this knowledge is prejudicial. The student then states his or her plea, which is entered onto the Notice to Appear and both counsels are given the opportunity to offer an overview of the case in their opening statements. After each counsel reads his or her opening statement, the Investigation calls any witnesses and enters evidence to support the charges. Witnesses may read a general statement of what they know regarding the incident, and the other participants have the opportunity to pose questions to them. After the Investigator provides the Court with his or her evidence, the Defense Counsel assists the student in presenting materials in support of the student's version of events. The Court may ask questions of the parties and witnesses at any time during the hearing. When each party has presented all of the witnesses and evidence, the two sides present closing statements. The accused student always has the final word and the Court then begins a private deliberation of the case.
If the Court finds there is not enough evidence to prove the charge(s) beyond a reasonable doubt, the student is found not guilty and the case is considered closed. If the Court finds evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the chair announces a judgment of guilty and then immediately begins to consider an appropriate sanction. The student may present evidence to the Court so that it can determine a sanction that is appropriate given the circumstances surrounding the offense and the student's personal situation.
The length of the hearing depends on the number of witnesses involved, the amount and complexity of evidence, and the length of time it takes the Court to deliberate. It is impossible to provide an exact estimate of how long a hearing will last because each hearing is unique. Usually, the student will know the entire outcome of the case in a single evening.