Sexual misconduct is among the most serious allegation any college student can face. After all, your school can't charge you with murder.
If you're charged with misconduct, the penalties can be severe. No, your school can't send you to jail, but it can suspend you and it can expel you. Often, expulsions come with the addition of a transcript notation. This notation explains the nature of your offense, and that can keep you from enrolling at another school. In simplest terms, your academic career could be over. In today's job market, that may be every bit as serious as a prison sentence.
What do you do, then, if you're one of the hundreds of students who are accused each year? First, you find out everything you can about your situation. Who accused you? What are they claiming? How do investigations at your school work? Will you have a chance to defend yourself at an open hearing?
Then, you make sure you have the very best help you can find. In most cases, you have the right to choose an advisor, and that advisor can be an attorney. You want to find a Title IX attorney, someone who knows the law when it comes to misconduct cases and who's had experience helping student clients defend themselves. You want Joseph D. Lento.
Title IX Sexual Misconduct
The University of West Florida handles the vast majority of its sexual misconduct cases using guidelines set down by Title IX. Preparing for your case, then, begins with understanding Title IX and what those guidelines actually have to say.
Title IX is a federal law originally passed in 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment on university campuses. Like every other school, UWF is required to enforce the law, or it risks losing federal funding. In addition, it is required to follow strict rules about investigating and adjudicating misconduct allegations.
The actual rules run to some 550 pages. UWF's Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy provides a somewhat condensed version that's eighteen pages long. Here are the highlights:
- Your school has a designated Title IX Coordinator. Anyone at UWF can report you for misconduct. However, only a Complainant (alleged victim) or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint against you.
- If you're being investigated, you are entitled to a “Notice of the Charges.” This notice must include the name of the Complainant, details about the allegation, and a list of your rights under Title IX. Among these, you have the right to
- Be treated as equal to the Complainant in all matters
- Select an advisor, who may be an attorney
- Be presumed “not responsible” (innocent) until proven “responsible” (guilty)
- Be investigated and judged by non-biased officials
- Review all evidence against you
- Receive advanced notice of all meetings and proceedings in the case
- The Coordinator appoints a separate Investigator to gather evidence in the case.
- The Investigator meets separately with both sides. In addition, they interview witnesses and collect any physical evidence such as pictures, videos, dorm logs, and texts.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator creates an unbiased report summarizing their findings. Both sides have ten days in which to review this report and suggest any revisions.
- Ultimately, the Investigative Report is forwarded to the Dean of Students, who sets a time and date for a live hearing and appoints one or more decision makers to preside over proceedings.
- At the hearing itself, both sides may make arguments, present evidence, and call witnesses. In addition, you may—through your advisors—cross-examine each other and any witnesses against you.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, decision-makers determine whether or not you are responsible for a violation. To do this, they use a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” In simple terms, they must find you responsible (guilty) if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed the offense. This is a far less strict standard than the one you may be more familiar with, “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.”
- Finally, you can appeal the hearing decision. However, you must do so within ten days of being notified of the decision, and grounds for appeal are strictly limited to
- Procedural irregularities that affected the case outcome
- New evidence that could have affected the case outcome
- Bias on the part of a Title IX official that could have affected the case outcome
Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct
As a result of changes to the law enacted in 2020, not all forms of sexual misconduct are covered under Title IX. In particular, off-campus incidents are no longer subject to the law. Many schools, including the University of West Florida, have re-written their own university policies to cover these incidents.
Because they are not subject to federal law, schools are free to investigate these “Non-Title IX” cases in any way they see fit. They are under no obligation to follow Title IX procedures or to afford respondents with any particular due process rights.
UWF's non-Title IX policy, the Prohibition of Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation, does entitle accused students to an investigation. However, the guidelines for conducting this investigation are not nearly as rigorous as those for Title IX cases. Essentially, investigators are asked to talk with both sides in the case and consider any physical evidence that might exist.
Students are not entitled to a hearing. Instead, the Investigator makes a recommendation as to whether or not a student is responsible for a violation, as well as what sanction to apply if necessary.
Finally, it is worth noting that the policy makes no mention of advisors or whether or not accused students have a right to retain legal counsel. This does not necessarily mean they are not, but it is a troubling omission. When schools bar advisor-attorneys, it's more important than ever you hire an attorney to make sure your rights aren't being violated.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
By this point, you probably have a pretty good sense of why you might need an attorney if you're charged with a sexually-based offense. Simply put, your entire future is at stake, and procedures in these cases are complex and difficult to navigate.
You need help, the best help you can find.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified defense attorney. He's not just any defense attorney, though. Joseph D. Lento is a Title IX attorney. That means he specializes in handling campus sexual misconduct cases. He understands Title IX, its history, and its politics, but he's also experienced at dealing with non-Title IX 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.