If your college or university has charged you with sexual misconduct, it's important you take the charge seriously. Penalties in these cases can be severe. The minimum sanction is often suspension, and expulsion is the far more likely outcome. And, it's not always easy to prove your innocence. Campus judicial procedures can be difficult to navigate, and the system is weighted in favor of accusers. For instance, your school doesn't have to find you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If it thinks you're “more likely than not” to have committed an offense, it will find you “responsible” (guilty) for violating policy.
Part of taking the situation seriously, then, is recognizing that you can't handle things all on your own. Sometimes you need help from a professional. This is one of those times. When you're building a house, you call a contractor. When you're sick, you visit the doctor. When you're dealing with an allegation of sexual misconduct, you contact a Title IX attorney.
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct
The University of Southern Mississippi handles almost all of its sexual misconduct accusations through a federal law known as Title IX. You may have heard Title IX mentioned in connection to college sports. The law prohibits sexual discrimination on college campuses, so it has been used to demand women's sports programs be funded at the same level as men's programs. However, the law also contains a set of strict guidelines for how schools must go about investigating any allegations of sexually-based mistreatment.
Here's what the University of Southern Mississippi's Title IX Policy Statement has to say about how the process works.
- You school must have a designated Title IX Coordinator. USM requires all faculty and staff to report any knowledge they may have of sexual misconduct. However, only the Coordinator may instigate an official investigation.
- If you're being investigated, you'll receive written notice detailing the allegation and providing the name of your accuser.
- Under Title IX, you have a number of important rights, including the right to an advisor, who may be an attorney; the right to be presumed “not responsible” (innocent); the right to review the evidence against you; and the right to be treated the same as the Complainant (accuser).
- Once they've provided you with notice, the Coordinator appoints an Investigator to look into the matter.
- USM has set a time limit of thirty days on investigations. During this time, Investigators meet regularly with both parties. In addition, they collect any physical evidence and interview witnesses.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator completes a written report offering an unbiased summary of their findings. Both sides have the right to review this document and request any changes before it is submitted to the Coordinator.
- Having received the Investigative Report, the Coordinator next sets a time and date for a live hearing. In addition, they appoint a Hearing Officer to oversee the proceedings.
- At the hearing, you have the right to make arguments, present evidence, and call witnesses to testify on your behalf. The Complainant may do the same. In addition, you may question each other and any witnesses against you. However, only advisors may actually conduct cross-examination.
- Once both sides have made their case, the Hearing Officer deliberates and determines the final outcome. They use a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” Unlike the more well-known “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt,” “Preponderance of Evidence” requires decision makers to find you responsible if they believe it is more than fifty percent likely you committed an offense.
- Finally, you have the right to appeal the hearing outcome should you lose. However, you have just five business days to file this appeal and there are limited grounds for appeal:
- The discovery of new evidence
- A procedural irregularity
- Conflict of interest or bias on the part of a Title IX official
Finally, you should know that if you should win your hearing, the Complainant also has the right to appeal.
Non-Title IX Cases at the University of Southern Mississippi
USM handles “almost all” of its sexual misconduct cases through Title IX, but not all of them. Changes in the law in 2020 mean some offenses—off-campus incidents, for example—are no longer covered under Title IX. That does not mean, however, that USM ignores them. In fact, in response to the 2020 changes, the school passed its own policies against sexual misconduct designed to handle what's now known as “non-Title IX” offenses.
Because non-Title IX cases are not subject to federal law, the school is free to use any procedures it deems appropriate. In addition, it need not provide you with any particular due process rights.
In fact, there are a number of key differences between USM's Title IX and non-Title IX procedures.
- You may be investigated by multiple entities including campus police and the Dean of Students.
- While you are entitled to make your case at a hearing, the school's Code of Conduct makes no mention of your right to an advisor or an attorney.
- Cases are decided by a hearing panel, made up of between four and nine members.
USM says little about how hearings in these cases are supposed to proceed. This suggests that should you be charged with a non-Title IX offense, it may be even more important that you retain an attorney to protect your rights.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
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.” Essentially, he specializes in handling campus sexual misconduct cases. In fact, over the years, Joseph D. Lento has handled hundreds of such cases for students just like you, making sure they're treated fairly and that their schools afford them every due process right they deserve. Joseph D. Lento is familiar with both Title IX and non-Title IX cases. He also knows how to talk to school faculty and administrators. Most importantly, Joseph D. Lento is on your side. Whatever you're facing, he's committed to making sure that you get the best possible resolution to your case.
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.