If you're a student who's been accused of sexual misconduct, you're probably experiencing a complicated mix of emotions right now. You may be hurt, even angry, that someone you trusted has made such an allegation. You're probably worried about the campus community finding out you've been charged with such a serious offense. You're likely feeling anxious about what's going to happen next.
The first step in getting a handle on all these emotions is learning everything you can about your situation. You need to know how sexual misconduct investigations work, what sort of opportunities you'll have to defend yourself, and what rights you're entitled to.
Most importantly, though, you need to know that you don't have to go through this experience alone. If it hasn't already, CUNY Brooklyn will tell you that you are entitled to choose an advisor, someone to help you prepare your case, someone who can represent you throughout the investigation and adjudication processes. That person can be—and should be—an attorney.
You're facing an uphill battle, but with perseverance and a little help, it's a battle you can win.
For many years, colleges dealt with virtually all sexual misconduct cases using Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972 that was aimed at eliminating sexual discrimination in US educational programs. Over time, a set of guidelines grew up around the law, guidelines that dictated how schools should investigate and adjudicate violations.
In recent years, however, the law has changed, and in response, many colleges and universities have developed additional policies towards sexual misconduct, policies designed to supplement Title IX. As a result, schools like CUNY Brooklyn now have two separate sets of processes for addressing these cases: Title IX processes and non-Title IX processes.
There are a number of important similarities between these two kinds of investigations, especially when it comes to your rights. CUNY Brooklyn guarantees, for instance, that you have the right to:
- Be treated as “not responsible” until proven responsible
- Be investigated and adjudicated by unbiased individuals
- Review evidence in the case
- Be accompanied by an advisor of your choice
- Receive advance notice of all meetings
In short, whatever kind of accusation is leveled against you, you are entitled to due process. Of course, schools can and do make mistakes. That's one reason why you need an attorney, someone who understands how due process is supposed to work and can make sure you are treated fairly at every step along the way.
Title IX Investigations
Title IX provides students with additional rights. In particular, you have the right to defend yourself at a live hearing, and you have the right to cross-examine your accuser and any witnesses against you.
More specifically, Title IX cases work like this:
- Formal complaints originate with the school's Title IX Coordinator and must be signed by either the Coordinator or a complainant.
- Once a formal complaint has been made, the Coordinator must notify you. As part of this notification, you should be told who made the accusations and provided with details as to what allegedly occurred. In addition, you should be apprised of all your due process rights.
- The Coordinator then appoints an investigator to examine the case. This person interviews both parties. In addition, they collect any physical evidence and talk with any potential witnesses. As the respondent, you have the right to present evidence and suggest witnesses. You also have the right to be accompanied by your advisor at all meetings.
- The investigator has up to 120 days to complete the investigation. Once completed, the investigator writes a full report summarizing their findings. Both sides are given ten days to respond to this report before it is submitted to the Title IX Coordinator.
- Next, the Coordinator sets a date for a formal hearing and selects three individuals—two faculty members and one student, all from other CUNY campuses—to serve as the Adjudication Committee.
- At the hearing itself, both sides have the opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses. Your advisor is allowed to represent you during all aspects of the hearing. In fact, only advisors may actually question witnesses.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the committee decides whether or not you are responsible. To do this, they use a standard known as “preponderance of evidence.” Less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” this standard demands only that the decision-makers believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed the violation.
- If the committee finds you responsible, they also assign a sanction.
- Finally, both sides may appeal the Adjudication Committee's findings within 15 days of the hearing's conclusion. Hearings may only be filed for very specific reasons, however:
- Procedural irregularities
- New evidence
- Conflicts of interest among the Coordinator, investigator, or committee members
- Penalty that is disproportionate to the offense
Non-Title IX Investigations
The investigative portion of non-Title IX cases is roughly similar to that of Title IX cases. You have the same basic rights, such as the right to an advisor, the right to be presumed “not responsible,” and the right to review evidence in the case.
The main difference between the two processes is that you are not entitled to a hearing in non-Title IX cases. Instead, once the investigation is complete, the Title IX Coordinator reviews the investigative report and decides the outcome of the case. In other words, you do not have the opportunity to participate in a hearing.
Should you dispute the Coordinator's decision, you do have the right to appeal that decision to an Appeals Committee. Once again, though, appeals can only be filed for very specific reasons, such as procedural irregularities, the discovery of new evidence, or the demonstration of an official's bias. Further, the Appeals Committee doesn't hold a hearing. Rather they review the documents associated with the case as well as any additional written arguments.
Joseph D. Lento, Title IX Sexual Misconduct Attorney
If your university should find you responsible for sexual misconduct, the repercussions can be serious. At a minimum, the school will likely suspend you. In many cases, you'll be expelled. In addition, you should know that expulsion comes with a transcript notation that explains you violated school policy. Such a notation can make it difficult to enroll at any other school. Your academic career could effectively be over.
Don't let this happen. Take allegations against you seriously, and make sure you hire a qualified lawyer with experience in university justice.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento built his career defending students just like you from sexual misconduct allegations. He knows all there is to know about Title IX and due process. He also understands how non-Title IX cases work. Joseph D. Lento knows how to work with university faculty and administrators. He's adept at negotiation, but he's also willing to fight for your rights when necess