You thought you did everything the right way.
After receiving notice that you had been accused of sexual harassment, stalking, sexual assault, rape, or another form of sexual misconduct, you immediately opened up your college or university's code of conduct to understand the seriousness of the allegations. You immediately made yourself available for an interview, answered questions, and followed your school's rules and regulations to the letter. After being informed of your rights – and the process that would determine your innocence or guilt in the matter – you collected evidence and built what you felt was a strong defense. You worked closely with your designed university advisor – and worked hard to follow all of his or her recommendations about how to handle the case. At your disciplinary hearing, you felt you had more than ably explained why the situation was nothing more than a misunderstanding – but a guilty finding, and its associated penalty, was still quickly handed down to you.
Yet, even upon receiving that result, you didn't stop fighting for your future. You immediately appealed the decision, seeking advice from the administration about how to improve your defense and overturn the previous finding. Once again, you painstakingly followed the judicial guidelines outlined in your college or university code of conduct. You made yourself available for more questioning, collected more evidence, and prepared as well as you could for a second hearing. You leaned even harder on your university-assigned advisor to help you fill in any gaps you may have missed the first time around. Yet, there, again, the outcome did not end in your favor. The school found you guilty a second, or if further appeals were permitted, perhaps even a third time – and has informed you that you have no further avenues to a different outcome.
So, what now? Have you truly exhausted all of your options – and an opportunity to avoid this finding being placed on your permanent academic record?
The answer is no. In fact, retaining counsel who has experience in defending students who have been accused of sexual misconduct can help you find a path forward – and find a resolution for the situation that will not negatively impact your academic or professional future.
A Rush to Judgment
For a variety of reasons, colleges and universities across the country are facing heightened pressure to quickly and aggressively remediate any and all claims of sexual misconduct on campus. After all, such allegations do not only affect the parties directly involved in the claim – they also have the power to diminish the reputation of your college or university over the long term.
Unfortunately, such tensions can lead universities to make errors during the judicial process that may violate your rights. While most courtrooms afford the accused the belief that they are “innocent until proven guilty,” colleges or universities eager to avoid the headlines or parental concerns may be more inclined to act first and investigate later – which can lead to a finding of guilt even on negligible evidence. You may find that, during the course of investigating a sexual misconduct allegation, the university only engaged in an incomplete or one-sided investigation. You may feel they rushed to judgment, handing down a suspension or expulsion without offering you the opportunity to properly defend yourself.
Balancing Title IX and Individual School Policies
You may be familiar with Title IX – it is the federal civil rights law, passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, to protect people from discrimination based on sex in educational programs or activities. All schools that receive federal funding, no matter how small, are required to uphold this law. It is important to understand that the discrimination described in the law also covers sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual coercion, and rape.
Title IX offers a variety of protections to victims of discrimination. But it also offers some protections to those who are accused of sexual misconduct. For example, under Title IX, the accused has the right to prompt notice of any allegations, a live hearing, the presence of an advisor, cross-examination, and a given standard of what constitutes proof for any form of sexual misconduct.
In addition to Title IX rules, however, it is likely that your college or university has published its own separate policies with regards to sexual misconduct. Sometimes, the two may be in direct conflict with one another. In other cases, the school may attempt to remediate the allegation using the wrong guidelines. In either case, having a knowledgeable advisor with experience defending students against Title IX claims and who understands your school's individual sexual misconduct policies is of benefit. That advisor can make sure you understand any nuances that may exist between the two policies – and, more importantly, ensure your rights have not been disrespected as the university resolves the case.
Potential Next Steps
If you have been found guilty by your school of a college sexual misconduct violation – and appeals have run their course – you likely feel anxious, frustrated, and thoroughly defeated. Certainly, those feelings are more than justified. But before you pack your bags, it is important to understand you may still benefit from the advice of an attorney-advocate with experience defending college sexual misconduct allegations.
Frankly, even if you have lost your case and do not see a way forward, that guilty verdict, and its associated sanctions, are not set in stone. Even though your school may have told you there is no further recourse, the fact of the matter is that there are alternative channels that may be taken to bring your case to a more favorable outcome. A lawyer with nationwide experience in defending students who have been accused of college sexual misconduct will show you that you may not have exhausted all of your options. In fact, that advisor can directly negotiate with the dean, school, conduct office, or school attorney to find an alternate resolution – one that will not leave the black mark of a guilty finding on your permanent record and leave your academic or professional future in jeopardy.
Too often, when you do not engage representation at the start of any college or university judicial proceedings, you will find your rights were not protected during different aspects of the investigation or hearing process. But it is never too late to engage counsel – and if you have gone as far as you can with your appeals process, it is even more important to have an experienced attorney-advocate that can negotiate on your behalf. That representative can identify places where your rights may have been disrespected or where university procedures were not appropriately followed. For example, an attorney with national experience in sexual misconduct cases may determine:
- Did your university advisor offer the right advice? In many cases, colleges and universities will strongly suggest that individuals accused of a sexual misconduct issue do not retain outside counsel. Instead, they will provide an assigned university advisor to guide you through the judicial process. But it is important to remember that any university advisor does not work for you – rather, they work directly for the university and may have a more vested interest in helping to quickly resolve the case as opposed to making sure your rights are protected. An experienced attorney-advocate can look through the documentation of your case to determine whether your university advisor did all they should have to help you defend yourself.
- Were you afforded all of your rights the college or university outlines in the code of conduct? What about your Title IX guarantees? Most institutions of higher learning have at least a paragraph discussing student rights and how they are to be upheld if a student is accused of a code of conduct violation in the Student Handbook. Unfortunately, in the race to get unseemly cases off the judicial docket, these rights can often be disrespected. A lawyer with college sexual misconduct experience can quickly determine what rights your school promises each student – as well as what Title IX protections are given to you by law – and make sure they were not violated during your hearing or subsequent appeal. For example, that attorney is likely to ask you the following:
- Were you promptly notified of the allegation? Or any accusations of a Title IX violation?
- Were you advised of your rights by the school – including the right to retain an advisor of your choosing?
- Was your advisor present for all meetings with investigators and the administration? Your hearing?
- Were you given adequate time to prepare a defense?
- Was your advisor available to help you gather evidence and prepare your defense?
- Were you and your advisor given the opportunity to review the investigator's report prior to it being finalized – and note any inaccuracies or errors before completion?
- Were you given a live hearing? Under what circumstances?
- Were you permitted to cross-examine your accuser?
- Were you allowed to present witnesses and evidence in your defense – including electronic evidence?
- Did the university conduct an impartial investigation of the allegations?
- Was your right to privacy and confidentiality upheld throughout the investigation, hearing, and appeals process?
- Were you given the right to appeal any findings or penalties issued against you?
- Do you have a disability, educational accommodation, or other need that was supported during the hearing and appeals process?
- Do you have a protected status? Were you possibly discriminated against due to your protected status?
Unfortunately, while you are afforded a number of rights both under university policy and federal law, how those rights are applied vary from school to school and, sometimes, even case to case. But with an experienced sexual misconduct defense attorney, you can make sure that any potential missteps made by the school during the course of your case can be resolved, even if you have already exhausted your appeals. Your advisor can negotiate on your behalf – or, if serious oversights occurred, can look into litigation as a last resort.
Don't Get Lost in the Labyrinth
Colleges and universities – particularly larger institutions – are known for their bureaucracy and have a multitude of governing bodies that must work together as part of any judicial proceeding. Because of their sensitive nature, sexual misconduct cases are likely to come to the attention of a variety of different offices and officials, from the head of the campus police to the school's Title IX Coordinator. That is one reason why it's so easy for missteps to occur during investigations and hearing processes. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
Luckily, this extensive bureaucracy means, even after you have unsuccessfully weathered the appeals process, there are still places where you may apply for some relief. Based on the specifics of your case and whether you attend a public or private institution, an attorney can attempt to negotiate with deans, regents, the school's board of trustees, or the state authority to find a more favorable resolution to your case.
- The Dean. While the specific role of the dean differs from one institution to another, this position is generally a conduit between students and the administration. As such, there is the possibility to work with the Dean of Student Affairs or other Dean within the university if any irregularities occurred during your hearing or appeals process.
- The Regents. A university Board of Regents has the responsibility of the general supervision of the school – as well as the control of funds and appropriations to the university. This is another governing body that an experienced attorney-advocate may reach out to after your appeal. They will want to ensure that university judicial processes were followed to the letter – and that the school has not left itself open to potential liability.
- The Trustees. A college or university board of trustees works to develop a particular school's strategic goals and objectives – but also has an important role in establishing standardized processes related to the school's different programs and services. As such, if any improprieties with the judicial process did occur, they are another governing entity an attorney can negotiate with to help you come to a more positive conclusion to your case.
- The State Authority. States require institutions of higher learning to be authorized to operate. As part of this authorization, regulations dictate any colleges or universities have a process to review and appropriately act on any complaints that may be made about an institution. If your rights were violated, or your school did not follow their published policies regarding your case, this is yet another government body that may be able to intervene on your behalf to work toward a more positive outcome.
Having the Right Advisor in Your Corner
Unfortunately, all things considered, even the mere allegation of sexual misconduct can have long-term repercussions on your academic and professional life. That starts with the threat of disciplinary sanctions that could result in the loss of hard-won tuition dollars or imperil your ability to complete your degree. But you may also find yourself barred or restricted from campus activities or living facilities – as well as carrying the stigma of being the perpetrator of a serious crime.
Unfortunately, the consequences often follow you long beyond your time at school as well. Students who are found guilty in sexual misconduct cases may find themselves being turned away from their desired career path – or may even find doors to specific internships, jobs, or vocations closed to them completely.
With so much at stake – and with colleges and universities looking to protect their reputations over your rights – it is essential to have experienced counsel by your side. An attorney-advisor with many years' experience in defending sexual misconduct claims will be up to date on school policies, judicial practices, and appeals processes. Such an attorney can work within the school's system to help negotiate the most favorable outcome.
Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have extensive experience in defending students at more than one thousand universities across the United States. His nationwide practice has successfully resolved hundreds of Title IX and sexual misconduct cases – even those where the accused students were told by university officials that they had exhausted all options for appeal.
Fight for Your Future
Attorney-advocate Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have unparalleled experience with Title IX sexual misconduct violations. Having a representative in your corner who understands college and university judicial processes – and the fact that there are options beyond appeal – can make all the difference to your case's outcome. With your future on the line, you want to make sure you have done everything you can to see your case through to a favorable outcome. Joseph D. Lento has the knowledge and experience to do just that. To schedule a confidential consultation and learn more about how the Lento Law Firm can help you, even if you have been told you've exhausted all further options to continue your defense, call (888) 535-3686 or contact us online.