It's a nightmare scenario, really, one we don't even like to imagine. You wake up one morning to find one of your classmates has falsely accused you of sexual misconduct. The school's Title IX coordinator is insisting you come in for an interview, and the dean is suggesting you might be temporarily suspended while the school investigates the matter.
Your first impulse may be to handle the matter yourself. After all, you're innocent, right? You have nothing to hide. The whole thing should be easy enough to clear up.
Unfortunately, that's not how the justice system works, even on college campuses. In fact, between the complexities of Title IX and the typical university bureaucracy, fighting an allegation of sexual misconduct can be more difficult if you're a student than it would be in a court of law. Title IX gives schools a built-in financial incentive to pursue prosecutions, and colleges and universities aren't necessarily bound to protect your due process rights.
What should you do if you find yourself in this situation? First and foremost, don't make things harder on yourself. Below, we go over some of the most important dos and don'ts that can help you avoid making the situation any worse than it already is.
Take the Charge Seriously
If you're innocent, you may be tempted to treat an accusation against you lightly. You may believe that since you didn't do anything wrong, if you just ignore the situation will resolve itself. Or you may think that, since you're a student, you're somehow protected. Don't ignore what's happening to you.
Instead, treat your situation with the seriousness it deserves. Allegations of sexual misconduct are no joke. Penalties can include probation, suspension, even expulsion. And often, expulsion includes a transcript notation that can prevent you from enrolling anywhere else. Plus, in our digital age, even an unfounded accusation can follow you for the rest of your life.
As for your student status, schools are not held to the same standards as judges and juries. Many schools don't allow students a full hearing or the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. Guilt isn't determined “beyond a reasonable doubt” but rather based on what is “most likely to have occurred.” And under Title IX, schools that don't go after every accusation risk losing their federal education funding, so you can expect the administration to pursue their case.
Like it or not, the situation is serious, and you should treat it that way right from the start.
Call a Student Defense Attorney Immediately
Only guilty people need attorneys, right? You're innocent, and the truth is on your side, so you can simply explain things to the authorities.
Don't be naïve. Never try to handle a situation like this on your own.
Instead, you should contact an attorney immediately, someone like Joseph D. Lento, who specializes in student disciplinary cases, sexual misconduct, and Title IX law. University policies are every bit as complex as state and federal law. In fact, they can be more nuanced and difficult to navigate since schools aren't required to respect your due process rights before punishing you. Worse still, sexual misconduct laws and policies are always in flux. You need someone on your side who keeps up to date with changes and who understands the implications of those changes.
An allegation of sexual misconduct may feel incredibly personal, and you may be shy about sharing the situation with another person. Understand that your attorney is on your side. What you share with them is confidential and protected under the law. They are sympathetic to what you're going through and have usually dealt with countless cases just like yours.
More importantly, while you may have watched every episode of Law and Order ever produced, you still aren't trained enough to develop a winning legal strategy. Attorneys are.
It's difficult to be accused of a crime like sexual misconduct and simply say nothing. You will likely feel as though you're unfairly judged by everyone around you, maybe even by the entire university community. It's tempting in a situation like this to try and control the narrative. You may want to tell your story to as many people as you can, to try and sway public opinion in your favor.
As hard as it may be, one of your most important responsibilities is to remain silent, even if others ask you to talk about the situation. If you've hired an attorney, it's their job to represent you, to speak for you in all situations. Once again, they are experts at doing this, so let them.
A Few More Don'ts
Finally, there are a few additional don'ts you should keep in mind.
- Don't destroy evidence: Even if you feel a piece of evidence might tend to incriminate you, in your attorney's hands, it could be used to clear your name. More importantly, destroying evidence tends to make you look guilty.
- Don't consent to DNA tests: If you're innocent, you may feel a DNA test will exonerate you. You cannot know how the results will be used, though, and a DNA test can be a violation of your due process rights. Let your attorney decide whether or not you should take such a test.
- Most importantly, don't talk to anyone about your case without your attorney present. This includes law enforcement, school officials, witnesses, even friends. And under absolutely no circumstances should you contact your accuser. You may think you can work the situation out by just sitting down with this person and talking it through. Anything you say, however, can be used against you, and just making an effort might be misconstrued in some way. Exercise your right to remain silent and let your attorney do the talking.
Call Joseph D. Lento
Accusations of sexual misconduct are serious business. You can bet the school will take such an accusation seriously, and you should too. Your first call, should you find yourself in a situation like this, should be to attorney Joseph D. Lento. Joseph D. Lento is an expert in Title IX law, university policy, and sexual misconduct cases. With unparalleled experience defending clients, he is empathetic and understands what you're facing. He's also tough as nails and committed to protecting your rights and to reaching the best possible outcome in your case.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.