If your college or university has accused you of sexual misconduct, you've probably come to this page looking for answers. You want to know what the investigation will look like, whether or not you'll have a chance to defend yourself at a formal hearing, and what kind of sanctions you might be facing if you're found responsible.
You'll find answers to these questions below. Before you go any further, though, the very first thing you need to know is that you can't handle this situation all on your own.
For one thing, there's just too much at stake. The minimum sanction in these cases is usually suspension. The more likely sanction is expulsion. Expulsion often comes with a transcript notation about the nature of your offense, and that can make it difficult, if not impossible, to transfer to another school.
Second, these cases can be complex. Most allegations are subject to federal law, and even seasoned lawyers can find them difficult to navigate. In today's political climate, you can expect your school will make it difficult to defend yourself, and it's not uncommon for accused students to have to face media scrutiny.
So, take your time looking through this information. Find out all you can about what you're facing. Then, contact a Title IX attorney. Title IX attorneys have studied the law and have experience working with student clients. They'll give you the best possible opportunity to get the justice you deserve.
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct
Most sexual misconduct cases at Columbia College are Title IX cases.
Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment in all federally funded education programs, including colleges and universities. In addition to this general prohibition, the law includes a strict set of guidelines for how schools must go about investigating and adjudicating all allegations. Building your defense, then, begins with understanding exactly what Title IX has to say.
Here's a basic outline of how Columbia College interprets Title IX.
- Columbia College has a Title IX Coordinator. Anyone at Columbia may report you for sexual harassment, but only a Complainant (alleged victim) or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint against you.
- If you are under investigation, the Coordinator must provide you with written Notice of the Charges. This Notice must include the name of the Complainant and details about the allegation. In addition, it should apprise you of your rights as a Respondent. Among these, you have:
- The right to be treated equally to the Complainant
- The right to be presumed “Not Responsible” (innocent)
- The right to an advisor, who may be an attorney
- The right to review all evidence in the case
- The right to advanced notice of any and all meetings or proceedings
- The Coordinator must also appoint an Investigator. This person is tasked with uncovering the facts of the case.
- The Investigator meets separately with both sides in the case. In addition, they collect any physical evidence and interview witnesses.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator submits a full, unbiased summary of their work. Both sides have five days in which to review this document and suggest revisions before it is forwarded to the Coordinator.
- Once they've received the Investigative Report, the Coordinator sets a time and date for a live hearing.
- Columbia College maintains a standing Title IX Hearing Board to hear sexual misconduct cases.
- At the hearing itself, both sides have the opportunity to make arguments, present evidence, and call witnesses. In addition, you may—through your advisors—cross-examine one another and any witnesses against you.
- Once the hearing is complete, the Board deliberates and decides on your level of responsibility. As part of this process, they use a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” Similar to “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt,” but stricter, this standard requires they find you responsible if they believe it is more than fifty percent likely you committed an offense.
- You may appeal the Board's decision. However, you must do so within three days. In addition, grounds for appeal are limited to:
- Procedural error
- The discovery of new evidence
- Bias on the part of a Title IX official
Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct
Most cases at Columbia are Title IX cases, but not all. The law changed in 2020, and among the changes, off-campus incidents are no longer subject to investigation. Most schools, including Columbia College, have instituted their own separate school policies to handle these so-called “Non-Title IX” incidents.
Because Non-Title IX cases aren't covered under the law, schools are free to use any procedures they choose. In addition, they aren't required to provide respondents with any particular due process rights.
In fact, the non-Title IX procedures at Columbia are significantly different than the Title IX procedures. The Dean of Students investigates allegations and has the authority to determine your level of responsibility and assign sanctions. If the Dean chooses, they can refer your case to the school's Judicial Board for a full hearing. However, here too, your rights are limited. You don't, for example, have the right to bring an attorney to meetings and proceedings.
Any time a school limits your rights, it's especially important you have a lawyer on your side. While your lawyer may not be able to attend hearings or raise objections on your behalf, you need someone observing the process to make sure you are being treated fairly.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified, fully licensed defense attorney who specializes in protecting student rights. He built his career defending students just like you from sexual misconduct charges, and he has years of experience with both Title IX and non-Title IX cases. Joseph D. Lento knows the law and how to make sure you get every right you're entitled to. He also knows how schools operate. He knows the tactics they use, and he knows how to fight those tactics.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, don't wait to act. The longer you wait, the more time your school has to build its case against you. For more information or to find out how we can help, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.