There's a lot you need to know if you've been charged by your university with sexual misconduct. The first thing is that you can't handle this problem by yourself. This isn't like the time when you lost a library book or the time when you got drunk and carved your name into your dorm room door. Most sexual misconduct cases aren't just subject to school policy; they're subject to federal law. The minimum penalty if you're found responsible is probably suspension. The more likely penalty is expulsion.
Luckily, you don't have to handle this problem by yourself. You have the right to choose an advisor to help you prepare your defense. In addition, you have the right to select an attorney to serve as your advisor. Make sure you choose the right advisor, though. Pick one who understands the law and who has experience helping student clients.
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct
Most sexual misconduct cases are handled through Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination in US education programs. That's true at East Tennessee State and every other public college and university in the country.
Title IX doesn't just ban sexual misconduct. It also contains a set of guidelines dictating how schools must investigate and adjudicate credible allegations. It's important, then, that you familiarize yourself with the law. Here's how ETSU's sexual misconduct policy interprets Title IX guidelines.
- Your school has a designated Title IX Coordinator. Anyone at your school may report you for sexual misconduct, but only a Complainant (the alleged victim) or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint against you.
- The Coordinator must provide you with notice if you're being investigated. Notice should include the name of the Complainant and details of the allegation.
- The Coordinator must also apprise you of your rights under Title IX. Among these, you have the right to an advisor, who may be an attorney; you have the right to be presumed “Not Responsible” (innocent); you have the right to review all evidence in the case; and you have the right to advanced notice of any meetings or proceedings in the case.
- Next, the Coordinator appoints an Investigator to handle the case. This person meets regularly with both sides. In addition, they collect any physical evidence and interview witnesses.
- ETSU has set a sixty-day time limit on investigations. At the conclusion of this time period, the Investigator writes a report summarizing their findings in an unbiased fashion. Both sides have ten days to review this report and suggest revisions.
- Once they receive the Investigative Report, the Coordinator sets a time and date for a live hearing and appoints one or more individuals to preside over the case.
- At the hearing, both sides may present evidence, call witnesses, and make arguments. In addition, you may cross-examine one another and any witnesses against you. Advisors conduct all examinations, but otherwise may only participate in an advisory capacity.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the Decision Maker(s) determine your level of responsibility. In doing this, they apply a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” Far less strict than the more commonly known “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt,” “Preponderance of Evidence” requires them to find you responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed an offense.
- Both sides can appeal the outcome of the hearing. However, appeals must be filed within five days of the hearing's conclusion. In addition, they may only be filed for certain very particular reasons, including
- The discovery of new evidence
- A procedural irregularity
- Conflict of interest or bias on the part of a Title IX official
This list only includes highlights of what Title IX has to say. The actual law runs to over 550 pages. That doesn't include the many administration memorandums that have been written to interpret the guidelines. The law is subject to frequent political wrangling and revision. This is one important reason you don't want to take on your defense all on your own. You're going to need someone on your side who has studied the law and knows how to use it to your benefit.
Non-Title IX Cases at East Tennessee State
Title IX applies to most instances of sexual misconduct, but not all. Beginning in 2020, certain incidents, such as those occurring off-campus, no longer fit within the more narrow confines of the law. Many schools, including ETSU, now deal with so-called “Non-Title IX” offenses through their student codes of conduct. Because these cases aren't subject to law, schools aren't required to provide Respondents with any particular due process rights. Some do; some don't.
For the most part, ETSU follows the same basic set of procedures in both kinds of cases. That is, you have the right to an attorney in both cases. You also have the right to a hearing and to appeal the outcome of the hearing.
There are some important differences between the two, however. One of the most important of these has to do with investigations. While Title IX outlines a very strict protocol for conducting investigations, ETSU itself doesn't provide any clear direction for how non-Title IX investigations should take place, including how long they may last, who should conduct them, and what right you have to contest their findings.
Joseph D. Lento Can Help
You should never try to take on a sexual misconduct charge by yourself. Many attorneys can be overwhelmed by the enormity of Title IX and the complexities of campus justice. If you want to give yourself the best possible chance to clear your name and resume your academic career, you need a Title IX attorney.
Joseph D. Lento built his career representing students in sexual misconduct cases. He's studied the law and is experienced with its procedures. He knows exactly what rights Title IX gives to respondents and how to use those rights to your best advantage. Joseph D. Lento spends every day talking with university faculty and administrators. He knows how schools operate, and he's comfortable navigating college judicial systems. Most of all, Joseph D. Lento is sympathetic to your situation. He's seen how schools operate; he knows the tactics they often use to bully students, and he's committed to ensuring you get a fair investigation and hearing.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, make sure you have a professional on your side. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.