The unique process of Title IX investigations often run parallel to criminal investigations and charges. This is especially common for severe allegations of sexual misconduct, like rape. When these two investigations are going on at the same time, though, they can impact each other in serious ways that can infringe on the rights of the person accused of misconduct.
An ongoing situation at the University of Wisconsin involving a member of the school's football team is an excellent example of how a Title IX investigation can impact your Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Wisconsin Wide Receiver Accused of Rape on Campus
Two women at the University of Wisconsin accused Quintez Cephus, a wide receiver on the school's football team, of raping them in April 2018. Cephus claimed that the sex was consensual, but the women claimed they were too intoxicated to consent.
The college opened a Title IX investigation into the incident. Then, in August, prosecutors filed criminal charges against Cephus.
Because Title IX cases tend to move quicker than criminal cases, Cephus was faced with a dilemma: He could either participate in the Title IX case to defend himself, or he could invoke his Fifth Amendment rights to defend against the criminal charge. If he spoke out against the allegations during the Title IX hearing, whatever he said could be used against him in court.
When Cephus asked the school to delay the Title IX case until the criminal case had resolved, the university refused. When he insisted that the school consider exculpatory evidence that prosecutors had obtained, his words fell on deaf ears.
He was subsequently found in violation of the school's code of conduct. He was expelled from the University of Wisconsin for sexual misconduct.
The jury in his criminal case acquitted him on all charges.
Student Sues School for Violating Fifth Amendment
Cephus has now filed a lawsuit against the University of Wisconsin. Among his claims is an argument that the school violated his due process rights by putting him into a position where he could either participate in the Title IX process or invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. By not delaying the Title IX case, the school forced Cephus to decide which one to defend against.
Title IX Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento
The dilemma is very real, especially for people accused of such a severe instance of sexual misconduct.
On the one hand, a criminal conviction can lead to a lengthy jail sentence – in this case, up to 40 years in jail – and could require you to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life.
On the other hand, getting expelled from college is far from a trivial repercussion. Not having a college degree virtually guarantees a difficult career, which can keep you from fully enjoying your life.
Because Title IX violations can be handed out on a preponderance of the evidence standard – meaning a panel only has to decide that you “more likely than not” committed the violation – not participating in the investigation and hearing can doom your case. But when participating increases the odds of a criminal conviction, it can seem like an impossible choice to make.