Few allegations carry the weight of a sexual misconduct allegation. Colleges and universities can't afford to look soft on offenders, especially in today's political climate. That means if you should find yourself accused, you're facing an uphill battle. Depending on your particular situation, you may not be entitled to a presumption of innocence. Your school could find you “responsible” (guilty) without giving you a hearing. You could be suspended before even an investigation takes place.
The bottom line is you need help. You can't take on your school alone. Nothing less than your future is at stake.
The good news is, there's help out there. In most cases, you have the right to an advisor, and that advisor can be an attorney. The moment you're accused, then, your very first job should be to find a Title IX attorney, someone who can stand beside you in interviews and judicial proceedings and make sure you're treated fairly and that you get the justice you deserve.
Title IX Cases
Florida Gulf Coast University deals with most of its sexual misconduct cases through Title IX. That's a government law passed in 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment on college and university campuses. In 2020, the Trump administration issued a set of strict guidelines that govern how schools may investigate and adjudicate these cases. That document runs to some 550 pages. The broad outline includes these rules:
- FGCU, and every other school in the country, must have a designated Title IX Coordinator. This person is responsible for implementing Title IX policy and deciding whether or not an allegation merits a full investigation.
- You're entitled to written notification if you are being investigated. That notification must include the name of the Complainant (your accuser) and details of the allegation against you.
- You are entitled to several important due process rights. Among these, you have the right to be presumed “not responsible” (innocent). You have the right to an advisor, who may be an attorney. You also have the right to review all evidence against you and to submit evidence and witness lists to the Investigator.
- The Coordinator appoints the Investigator. This person meets separately with both sides in the case. In addition, they collect physical evidence and interview witnesses.
- At FGCU, investigations must be completed within sixty days. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator completes a written summary of their findings. Both sides then have ten days to review this document and suggest any revisions.
- Once the Coordinator receives the Investigative Report, they choose a time and date for a formal hearing and appoint one or more individuals to serve as Decision-Makers.
- At the hearing, both sides have an opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses. In addition, you may cross-examine each other and any witnesses against you. Your advisors may speak on your behalf throughout the hearing, and they are required to conduct any cross-examination.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the Decision-Maker(s) deliberate as to your responsibility. In doing so, they use a legal standard known as “preponderance of evidence.” Less strict than the standard you may be more familiar with, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” “preponderance of evidence” requires Decision-Makers to find you responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed a violation.
- Both sides in the case have the right to appeal the hearing outcome. However, FGCU limits the conditions under which you may do so to
- Due process errors
- The discovery of new evidence
- Overly severe sanctions
- Bias on the part of a Title IX official
Non-Title IX Cases
When the Trump administration issued its new Title IX guidelines in 2020, it created something of an uproar. Among the changes, the new rules narrowed the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictional authority. For instance, incidents that occur off-campus are no longer covered under the law. Many schools protested; some even sued to stop the policy from taking effect.
When legal recourse failed, many schools decided to re-write their own policies to deal with these so-called “non-Title IX” incidents. FGCU was one of them.
In many ways, the school's own procedures mirror those of Title IX. For instance, accused students have the right to an attorney-advisor. They have the right to a presumption of innocence. Investigations work the same in both types of cases.
There is one important difference between Title IX and non-Title IX cases at FGCU, though: non-Title IX cases end with the investigation. In other words, accused students are not entitled to defend themselves at a hearing. Instead, the Investigator draws conclusions from the evidence they gather and issues a decision in the case. This places an enormous amount of power in the hands of a single individual, and it essentially ignores the American justice principle that the police and courts should be separate entities.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help
Whatever process is used to decide your case, you need to know that sanctions can be severe if you are found responsible. The minimum penalty in these cases is usually suspension. More likely, your school will expel you if it finds you responsible. At FGCU, expulsion comes with a transcript notation about the nature of the offense. That could effectively end your academic career. Few schools are willing to take a risk enrolling a student who's been expelled from another university.
In short, everything is on the line, and the deck is stacked against you. Note: that doesn't mean the situation is hopeless. It just means you need help.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified, fully-licensed defense attorney. He isn't just any defense attorney, though. He's a Title IX attorney who specializes in school sexual misconduct cases. In fact, Joseph D. Lento built his practice representing students, just like you, defending them from all kinds of charges, from simple verbal harassment to dating violence and even rape. Joseph D. Lento knows the law. He also knows the tactics schools use. He'll stand beside you from start to finish and make sure you're treated fairly and 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.