If you're facing an allegation of sexual misconduct, the first thing you need to know is that you must absolutely take it seriously. Such allegations aren't just a matter of school policy; they're a matter of federal law. Your university will dig into your past, interview everyone you know, and uncover every piece of evidence it can to use against you. If it should find you responsible for an offense, the minimum penalty will probably be suspension. The more likely penalty is expulsion.
Here's the good news: you don't have to handle this situation all on your own. In most cases, you have the right to an advisor, someone to help you prepare your defense and to stand beside you at meetings and all other proceedings. Even better, usually, this advisor can be an attorney. So, learn all you can about how your school handles sexual misconduct. The more prepared you are, the better your chances of proving your innocence. Then make sure you have the right legal representation, someone who knows the law and who has experience representing student clients.
Title IX Sexual Misconduct
St. Cloud State University treats most of its sexual misconduct accusations as Title IX cases. Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 that outlawed sexual discrimination on college campuses. In the roughly fifty years since it was passed, “discrimination” has come to mean all forms of sexual harassment, including sexual violence. In recent years the law has been expanded to include a strict set of guidelines for how schools should investigate and adjudicate allegations.
St. Cloud State University follows the Minnesota State Board of Regents' interpretation of these guidelines.
- All schools must have a designated Title IX Coordinator. This person sets policy for the college or university and processes all complaints.
- Only a Complainant (alleged victim) or the Title IX Coordinator may open an investigation. All Respondents (accused students) are entitled to notice of any charges against them. This notice should include the name of the Complainant as well as details of the allegation itself.
- Under Title IX, you have a number of important rights, including the right to be presumed “not responsible” (innocent), the right to an attorney-advisor, the right to review the evidence against you, and the right to advanced notification of all meetings and proceedings.
- At St. Cloud State. University, the Title IX Coordinator also serves as Investigator in the case. In this role, the Coordinator meets with both sides in the dispute, interviews witnesses, and collects any physical evidence.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Coordinator completes a written report summarizing their findings. Both sides have ten days to review this document and suggest revisions. After that, it becomes the basis of the next phase in the case, the hearing.
- The Coordinator then turns the matter over to the school's Office of Administrative Hearings. This office sets a time and date for a live hearing and appoints a Decision Maker to preside over the proceedings.
- At the hearing, both sides have the opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses. In addition, they may question one another and any witnesses against them. Each side must have an advisor who conducts the actual cross-examination. If a student does not have an advisor, the school must provide one, though it is not required to provide an attorney.
- Once the hearing is over, the Decision Maker then uses a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence” to decide whether or not the Respondent is responsible for (“guilty of”) a Title IX violation. This standard asks only whether it is “more likely than not” that an offense occurred.
- Both sides have the right to appeal the Decision Maker's findings. However, appeals must be filed within ten calendar days, and they may only be filed for certain very specific reasons, including a procedural error, new evidence, or bias in the case.
Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct
In 2020, the Trump administration changed the rules governing how Title IX was implemented. Specifically, the administration narrowed the definitions for “discrimination” and “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictional authority. So, for example, off-campus incidents are no longer covered under the law.
Many schools, including SCSU, objected to the changes and, in response, developed new policies and “non-Title IX procedures” for dealing with these incidents. SCSU, for instance, created new language in its Student Code of Conduct to address any misconduct that might otherwise fall through the cracks.
It is important to recognize that because these “non-Title IX” offenses aren't subject to federal law, SCSU is free to use any procedures it likes and is under no obligation to provide Respondents with any particular due process rights. In fact, the school offers no specific guidance as to how such cases are investigated. Rather the policy notes merely that
- “An initial inquiry is conducted,” and
- “A determination about which procedure will be followed is made.”
In short, respondents have no guarantee their case will be investigated by an impartial investigator, that they will have the right to defend themselves at a live hearing, or in general, that justice will be done.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
You probably understand by this point why you need an attorney to help you deal with any sexual misconduct allegations against you. Your future is at risk, and whichever set of procedures you're facing, you'll likely be fighting an uphill battle.
You don't want just any attorney, though. A local or family attorney, for example, won't do. You need someone who knows the law and who has experience representing student clients.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified defense attorney. He's not just a 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. 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.