In most instances, if your college or university accuses you of sexual misconduct, you're entitled to an advisor, and that advisor can be an attorney.
Why? Why do school policies and federal law guarantee you can have a lawyer at your side when you defend yourself against these types of charges? Simply put, because so much is at stake. Your school can't send you to prison, but it can expel you. In fact, that's the most likely outcome if you're found responsible. Even if you're only suspended, a sexual misconduct notation on your transcript can follow you around for the rest of your life. Add to this the fact that a sexual misconduct defense is complex, that procedures are difficult to navigate, and the rules aren't always in your favor, and you can see why having an attorney at your side is so important.
You have to take advantage of this right, though. You're not required to hire an attorney. The law recognizes that you need one, but ultimately it's up to you to protect yourself.
Title IX Sexual Misconduct
Just what makes a sexual misconduct defense so difficult? Most cases at Ferris State are dealt with using Title IX. That's a federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment in US education programs. The rules that dictate how schools investigate and adjudicate these cases run to over 550 pages. In addition, there are several recent memorandums that the government has issued to help interpret the law. Ferris State's interpretation of all that information is an additional 35 pages. Try parsing all those rules yourself, sorting through all that complicated legalese. Then, try doing it while cramming for your calculus midterm and putting together that research paper for your sociology class. That's just to know what you're up against. Getting through the process itself involves another whole level of complexity. Here's a brief overview of some of what you can expect.
- Ferris State has its own Title IX Coordinator. This individual sets school policy regarding sexual conduct and makes decisions about whether an accusation warrants an official investigation. This is just the first of many officials you'll have to deal with if you are charged.
- If you are charged, the Coordinator must provide you with a Notice of the Charges. This document should provide you with the name of the alleged victim as well as important details about the allegation. This information can be vital to preparing your defense, but you have to know what to do with it.
- Title IX guarantees you several important rights. These include
- The right to be presumed “not responsible” (innocent) until proven “responsible” (guilty)
- The right to an advisor, who may be an attorney
- The right to be treated equally to the Complainant in all matters
- The right to review all evidence against you
- The right to advanced notice of all meetings and proceedings in the case
- The right to be investigated and adjudicated by non-biased individuals
Again, however, these rights won't mean much if you don't know how to use them to your advantage.
- The Coordinator appoints an Investigator to collect the facts. This person separately interviews both you and the Complainant. This is your first opportunity to give your side of the story. You can offer evidence and direct them to witnesses who might be able to corroborate your version of events. This can be an intimidating process, though, for anyone who hasn't been through it before.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator writes an unbiased summary of their findings. You have the right to review this document and to suggest changes to anything you feel is factually incorrect. However, you have only ten days in which to do this before the report is forwarded to the Coordinator.
- Once they receive the Investigative Report, the Coordinator sets a date and time for a live hearing. In addition, they select a Hearing Officer to oversee the proceedings.
- At the hearing, both sides may make arguments, present evidence, and call witnesses. In addition, you may—through your advisors—cross-examine each other and any other witnesses against you. If you do not have an advisor, the school must appoint one to represent you during the hearing. The school is under no obligation, though, to provide you with an attorney.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the Hearing Officer must determine your level of responsibility in the matter. To do this, they use a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” Less strict than “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt,” this standard requires them to find you Responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed an offense.
- Either side may appeal the outcome within ten days of being notified of that outcome. However, grounds for appeal are limited to
- Procedural irregularity
- New evidence
- Bias or conflict of interest
Finally, it's important to note that not all sexual misconduct cases at Ferris State University are Title IX cases. The law changed significantly in 2020 and no longer covers some of the incidents it once did. For instance, off-campus accusations are no longer subject to Title IX. Ferris State and many other schools re-wrote their Student Code of Conduct policies to handle these “Non-Title IX” cases.
For the most part, Ferris State's Non-Title IX procedures are the same as its Title IX procedures. That is, you are still entitled to an investigation and—in place of a hearing—a Conduct Conference. You're still entitled to an advisor and still entitled to be presumed Not Responsible until proven Responsible. There are subtle differences, however, between the two processes, differences only a seasoned attorney will know how to handle.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
It should already be clear by this point why you need an attorney to help you prepare your case. Beyond how difficult the rules can be, you should know that most schools will tend to favor the Complainant in these cases, even though the law prohibits them from doing so. The fact is, in today's political climate, no school wants to be seen as soft on sexual offenses. As a result, you can expect your school to do everything it can to find you Responsible and to punish you severely if it does.
The bottom line is, you need help: the very 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 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.