If you're facing a charge of sexual misconduct from your college or university, you probably have a lot of questions.
- What happens next?
- Will I have a chance to defend myself?
- What kinds of punishments am I facing if I'm found responsible?
You'll find many of the answers here. You need to know from the start, though, that sexual misconduct cases can be complex and difficult to navigate. Most cases are subject to federal law, and procedures are dictated by a set of guidelines that runs to over 550 pages. The bottom line is, you're going to need help.
Luckily the law allows you to get that help. You're entitled to select an advisor, and that advisor can be an attorney. So, take the time now to learn all you can about your situation. That should help relieve some of your anxiety. Then, contact a qualified Title IX attorney to work with you to build your defense. That will help relieve the rest.
Title IX Sexual Misconduct
Most sexual misconduct cases at Stephen F. Austin State University are dealt with using Title IX. Again, Title IX guidelines for conducting investigations and adjudications are some 550 pages long. However, SFASU's Title IX policy offers a condensed version detailing how the school interprets those guidelines. Here are the highlights:
- All Title IX cases originate with your school's Title IX Coordinator. Under Texas law, all faculty and staff are required to report any knowledge they may have of sexual misconduct, but only a Complainant (alleged victim) or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint against you.
- If you are charged, you're entitled to written notice of those charges. This notice should include the name of the Complainant as well as details of the allegation. In addition, it should make you aware of other important rights you have under Title IX. Among these, you have the right to:
- Select an advisor, who may be an attorney
- A presumption of “not responsible” (innocent) until proven “responsible” (guilty)
- Equal treatment to the Complainant in all matters
- Review all evidence against you
- Advanced notice of all meetings and proceedings in the case
- Non-biased investigators and decision-makers
- In addition to signing the initial complaint, the Coordinator is also responsible for appointing an Investigator to the case.
- The investigator meets separately with both sides. They also gather any physical evidence and interview any witnesses.
- At SFASU, the Investigator has 100 days to complete their work. At the end of this time, they must complete an unbiased Investigative Report, summarizing their findings.
- Both sides in the case have the right to review the Investigative Report and ten days in which to suggest any revisions to that report.
- The finalized report is sent to the Coordinator, who then chooses a date and time for a live hearing. In addition, the Coordinator selects members of a review panel to conduct the proceedings.
- At the hearing itself, both sides may make arguments, present evidence, and call witnesses. In addition, you may—through your advisors—cross-examine each other and any witnesses against you.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the members of the panel decide, based on a majority vote, whether or not you are responsible for a Title IX violation. To do this, they employ a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” In simple terms, this standard requires them to find you responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed an offense.
- Finally, you have the right to appeal the panel's decision. However, you may only appeal on limited grounds, including:
- A procedural irregularity that affected the case outcome
- New evidence that could have affected the case outcome
- Bias on the part of a Title IX official that could have affected the case outcome
Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct
For many years, all sexual misconduct cases were Title IX cases. That's no longer true. In 2020, the Trump administration revised Title IX definitions and guidelines, setting off a protracted debate that continues today. Among other changes, the administration narrowed the meanings of “discrimination” and “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictional authority. As a result, some sexual misconduct, such as incidents that occur off-campus, is no longer covered under the law.
A number of schools, including Stephen F. Austin State University, took issue with these changes. Some universities actually sued the federal government to prevent them from taking effect. When that didn't work, they re-wrote their own school policies to cover these so-called “non-Title IX” offenses. The SFASU Title IX policy notes that sexual misconduct that doesn't rise to the level of a Title IX offense is referred to “other University offices, as appropriate.” In fact, most are handled as violations of the school's Student Code of Conduct.
Because non-Title IX cases aren't subject to federal law, schools are under no obligation to follow any particular set of procedures or to provide students with any particular due process rights. Luckily, students at SFASU are entitled to defend themselves at a hearing. However, the rules of these hearings are somewhat different from those of Title IX hearings. One big difference, for instance, is that advisors are not allowed to participate directly in the proceedings. Rather, their role is strictly advisory.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
It should be clear at this point why you need an attorney to help you with your sexual misconduct case. You don't want just any attorney, though: you want a Title IX attorney. It's no easy task to mount a defense when the rules are this complicated. If you should be found responsible, the minimum penalty is likely suspension. More often, schools expel students for violations. You need someone on your side who knows the law and has experience handling student cases.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified defense attorney. He's not just any defense attorney, though. Joseph D. Lento is what's known as a Title IX attorney. That means he specializes in handling campus sexual misconduct cases. He understands Title IX, its history, and its politics, but he's also experienced in dealing with non-Title IX cases. Joseph D. Lento has dedicated his career to fighting for student rights. Over the years, he has handled hundreds of cases for students just like you, making sure they're treated fairly and that they get the justice they deserve.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, don't wait to act. The school is already preparing its case. You should be too. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.