If you find yourself accused of sexual misconduct, here's the first thing you need to know: a campus judicial hearing isn't the same as the court cases you've seen on TV. On TV, juries must reach a unanimous verdict to convict someone; the accused always has a right to confront their accuser in court; and defendants must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. College judicial systems aren't bound by any of those rules.
Here's the second thing you need to know: the school will not be on your side. As the investigative and judicial authority in your case, a school should be entirely unbiased. They aren't. Since 1972, colleges and universities have had a clear financial incentive to prosecute sexual misconduct cases aggressively. Documentaries like The Hunting Ground have given them social and political incentives as well.
What does all this mean? It means you need to do everything you can to prepare for this fight. That starts with understanding how your school treats such allegations.
San Francisco State University is part of the California State University system. Sexual misconduct cases in the CSU system can be especially difficult to navigate. That's because the system has not one set of procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct but two. In fact, many state college boards are using two separate tracks these days.
Since 1972, and until very recently, essentially all college cases of sexual misconduct were prosecuted according to rules set down by the federal government's Title IX legislation. The government originally passed that legislation to deal with problems of sexual discrimination and harassment in educational settings. U.S. colleges, in particular, genuinely needed that legislation in the early 1970s. And, for the most part, Title IX did exactly what it was meant to: turn college campuses into welcoming spaces for women and minorities.
However, the law wasn't without its flaws, and these have become more apparent over time. The most obvious flaw was that Title IX tied school compliance to federal funding. No institution, no matter how enlightened, can maintain its objectivity when money is at stake. In addition, however, Title IX did a poor job of defining the term “harassment.” Eventually, the definition became so broad that it included everything from unequal classroom treatment, to public indecency, to domestic violence and date rape.
By 2020, Title IX had evolved to the point where defendants in sexual misconduct cases had a difficult time getting fair treatment. Then the Trump administration stepped in.
To be fair, the administration's efforts, like the original law, were well-intentioned. In early 2020, under the leadership of education secretary Betsy Devos, Trump issued new guidelines for how schools should handle Title IX violations. Among the changes, these guidelines limited schools' jurisdictional authority, narrowed the definition of “harassment,” and restored some basic due process rights to the accused.
The new Title IX might have gone a long way towards leveling the playing field for defendants. Instead, it only generated more chaos. Rather than accept these rule changes as a necessary correction to a genuine problem, the academic community almost immediately began looking for a way around it. They found one. Most schools simply created a second system to deal with any sexual misconduct violations they could no longer prosecute under Title IX. Where once there was one set of rules, now there were two.
The California State University system, and thus San Francisco State University, is among those organizations that chose to create a second track for dealing with sexual misconduct. When anyone lodges a sexual misconduct complaint, the Title IX office must first decide whether to treat the violation under Title IX or the revised Student Code of Conduct. You can be treated very differently depending on which path the office chooses.
Under current Title IX standards, once an allegation of sexual misconduct has been made:
- The Title IX coordinator appoints an investigator.
- This investigator interviews both parties as well as witnesses and collects any relevant physical evidence.
- The investigator then writes a report, which, after input from both parties, is forwarded to a judicial committee.
- That committee begins at the beginning, hearing the case in its entirety.
- Both sides can select advisors, and those advisors may be attorneys.
- Under the new Title IX, advisors can present evidence and cross-examine witnesses.
- In the end, the committee makes a determination as to responsibility and assigns any necessary penalties.
However, if you should be prosecuted under the Student Code of Conduct, you may find you have significantly fewer rights. Perhaps the most glaring difference is that you have no right to a hearing. The investigator is solely responsible for deciding the case. Students do have the right to appeal the investigator's findings, but they can only do so under limited conditions such as obvious proof of bias.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help You?
Neither of the judicial procedures currently in place at San Francisco State University favors the accused. If you've been accused of sexual misconduct, even under the best of circumstances, you can expect your life will be turned upside down.
Further, despite the fact that defendants' rights aren't as well-protected as they would be in a court of law, the penalties, should you be found guilty, can be just as severe. True, SFSU can't sentence you to jail time, but it can impose probation, suspension, and even expulsion. Suspension and expulsion include permanent transcript notations as to the nature of your offense. Such notations can make it difficult, if not impossible, to get internships, transfer to another school, even find a job.
If you're facing a sexual misconduct allegation, don't take the school on alone. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and get the help you need, the help you deserve. Joseph D. Lento has defended hundreds of clients nationwide from charges both under Title IX rules and university policies. He knows how schools try to undermine your rights, and he knows how to stop them. Get someone on your side. Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.