How Can an Attorney Help Your Title IX Investigation Under the New Final Rule?
In 2020, the Department of Education made major changes to Title IX enforcement on campuses across the country with its “Final Rule.” Many of these changes translate into stronger rights for students facing a sexual misconduct accusation.
Under the new Title IX rules, as of 2020:
- You may cross-examine witnesses, including your accuser, and
- Schools must no longer use the single investigator model in Title IX cases.
If you've been accused of sexual misconduct under Title IX, the new guidelines under the Final Rule help you prove your innocence and avoid bias during your investigation.
Despite these changes to your advantage, you should still talk to a Title IX adviser about your case. The best option is to talk to a Title IX attorney about your situation as soon as possible.
Time is of the essence if you've been accused of Title IX sexual misconduct. Although the new Final Rule removed some of the strict 60-day deadlines for Title IX cases, many continue to be resolved within just a few months. Your life could be turned upside down during that time.
When it comes to Title IX cases, you always have a better chance at proving your innocence the earlier you get started on your defense. if you fail to address the accusations against you, your school may enter a finding of responsibility on your record. Once this is done, it's much harder to undo. You can't rely only on the appeals process to clear your name.
Your Title IX attorney-advisor can help you navigate every step of your investigation. A good Title IX advisor may even help resolve your case during the investigation – before your hearing where you might get a finding of responsibility entered against you.
For help with your Title IX case, call the Lento Law Firm now at (888) 535-3686.
The Title IX Investigation Process
A Title IX investigation can be resolved either through informal or formal procedures. The informal process involves mediation between the two parties and helps resolve their issues without a formal investigation. However, mediation may not be appropriate or available in some Title IX cases because of the sensitive nature of the issues at hand.
The formal Title IX investigation process starts when all involved parties are notified. Your school's Title IX office will then proceed to:
- Gather all the relevant facts and evidence
- Review and analyze all of the information about the case
- Decide whether a Title IX violation has occurred
- Write a report then notify all the involved parties of the outcome
- Enforce sanctions against the responsible students, if necessary
Because Title IX cases involve serious incidents of sexual misconduct, sanctions tend to be harsh, often ranging from suspension to expulsion from your school. A Title IX disciplinary sanction on your record could derail your education, career, and future.
That's why it's important to take the Title IX allegations against you seriously from the beginning. You are much more likely to get a positive outcome with the help of an experienced Title IX advisor rather than going through the process alone.
A good Title IX attorney-advisor acts as your guide, coach, counselor, and advocate at every point in the process. You can't rely on your school's Title IX office to uncover the truth or your side of the story for you – you must proactively defend yourself.
New Changes to the Title IX Investigation Process
Before the new Final Rule was released in 2020, schools were encouraged to use the “single investigator model” to resolve Title IX cases.
In the “single investigator” framework, a single Title IX official from your school's office had the power to gather evidence, investigate your case, prosecute you for responsibility, and even recommend sanctions against you. This is an enormous amount of power for a single person to have over a student's life – acting as detective, judge, and jury. If that person is biased for whatever reason, your Title IX investigation could be stacked against you from the start.
The new Final Rule no longer allows schools to use the single investigator model. Instead, all Title IX cases must have live hearings to determine responsibilities. The new rules specifically state that “no decision-maker [can] be the same person who serves as the Title IX coordinator or investigator” for reasons based on “fundamental fairness.”
This is a huge change and a big win for students' rights.
If your Title IX case gets past the investigation stage, you'll have the ability to present your case live to the person who is going to decide its outcome. The decision-make must:
- Read the investigator's report in its entirety, and
- Listen to live testimony from any witnesses listed in the report.
If a witness refuses to be cross-examined by your advisor in a live setting, their testimony may not be included in the report as evidence against you.
A hearing is a much more fair approach for you to prove your side of events. However, the hearing process can also be stressful. In some cases, you may be able to resolve the Title IX accusations against you in the investigation stage – before you must attend a hearing.
Your best shot at avoiding a hearing is to have a strong Title IX advisor to defend you before your case gets to that point if possible.
Gathering Evidence for Your Title IX Investigation
Gathering evidence is one of the most important parts of your Title IX investigation. Title IX cases are fact-specific, each case unique based on the circumstances. Your school Title IX office cannot determine fault or responsibility without knowing all the facts of your case.
Proving the facts around a sexual misconduct case can be difficult. In many instances, you and your accuser may be the only people with intimate knowledge of the facts. You may find yourself in a situation where it's your testimony against theirs. You want to have as much documented evidence as possible to back up your side of the story.
However, not all evidence is created equal. Title IX has rules around what types of evidence can be submitted for consideration. Your school may accept certain types of evidence but not others. Some types of evidence may carry much greater weight than others. As a student, it's impossible for you to know all the nuances around evidentiary requirements. That's where an experienced Title IX attorney-advisor comes in to help you understand what evidence is best.
Evidence to back up your Title IX defense could include:
- Eyewitness testimony from others
- Cell phone records or location pings
- Social media posts or text messages
- Voicemails or video recordings
- Security footage from buildings or hallways
- Any other relevant documents
Your Title IX advisor can help you put together your strongest case based on the available evidence. A skilled attorney-advisor can also help carry out some of the investigation for you, searching in places you never would have thought to look for proof. Your attorney can also find and prepare witnesses to testify on your behalf.
If you're able to uncover evidence that establishes your innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt, you may be able to resolve your Title IX case before it proceeds to the hearing stage.
Reviewing and Analyzing the Information in Your Case
Once both sides have submitted their evidence and your school's Title IX office has completed its own investigation, your Title IX coordinator will compile all of the information in your case. The Title IX office will then present the complete file to all of the involved parties. After that, you will have 10 days to review and analyze all of the evidence.
During this time, you can address and correct discrepancies or add to the record with any new details you remember based on a memory triggered by the evidence.
It's extremely important to get an experienced, critical assessment of your case at this stage. A seasoned and knowledgeable Title IX attorney-advisor can:
- Uncover weak points in your accuser's statement of events
- Argue against the use of any evidence that's too prejudicial
- Find evidence to counter arguments made by the other side
- Determine what questions to ask witnesses if a hearing becomes necessary
You want an experienced Title IX professional at your side because there's nothing worse than relying on evidence that won't actually do the job.
The procedures and rules around Title IX can feel complicated to the untrained eye. To make matters even more complex, Title IX enforcement changes based on each and every school campus. An experienced Title IX attorney-advisor considers:
- The student rules of conduct at your school
- The Title IX culture at your specific school campus
- Whether your school has been in the news for Title IX violations
- Your school's unique Title IX procedures as laid out in their student handbook
Joseph D. Lento has been defending innocent students accused of Title IX sexual misconduct for nearly two decades, representing clients across the country. With that kind of experience, the Lento Law Firm caters your defense strategy to you and your specific school.
If you are able to provide such compelling evidence that it neutralizes your accuser's allegations, you may be able to resolve your Title IX case before you must attend a hearing.
Standards of Proof in Title IX Cases
Under the Title IX rules, schools have the option to use one of two different standards of proof and must apply that standard consistently across all similar cases on campus.
Your school's standard of proof for Title IX sexual misconduct could be:
- Preponderance of the evidence – You could be held responsible for sexual misconduct if your accuser proves their allegations to be “more likely than not” to be true. In other words, the Title IX case finds you more than 50% likely to be responsible.
- Clear and convincing evidence – This is a much higher standard of proof, where your accuser must prove their allegations to be “substantially more probable to be true” than not. This is much higher than the 50% threshold of the preponderance of the evidence.
Your defense strategy will change depending on which standard your school uses. A skilled Title IX attorney will know how to handle cases under either standard.
Although gathering and establishing evidence may seem straightforward, it can be one of the most complicated parts of a case. A good advisor's help is invaluable at this stage.
The Importance of Due Process in Title IX Cases
One of the biggest issues in Title IX cases is due process – the right of each and every student to have their case heard in a fair and just way. Due process is one of the most fundamental concepts of U.S. law – assuring that everyone can have their day in court.
Although Title IX cases are handled by schools and not government courts, due process still applies. Title IX accusations of sexual misconduct can have direct and dire consequences on your life – a suspension or expulsion could derail your education and career. Not just that, but sexual misconduct allegations that start on campus can become criminal cases. In fact, most schools will coordinate with local law enforcement if they need to.
That means if you've been accused of sexual misconduct under Title IX, you've got a lot on the line. You deserve to get proper due process in your Title IX case without being disadvantaged.
Unfortunately, schools often miss the mark when it comes to due process under Title IX. That's why so many students accused of Title IX misconduct file due process lawsuits.
You need someone to defend your due process rights – especially with schools trying to adjust to the new Title IX rules. You don't want your due process rights to slip through the cracks.
Your Title IX attorney-advisor can help make sure that your school follows due process at every point in your investigation. If your advisor finds a due process violation, they can alert the school and help fix the issue before you're unfairly held responsible for sexual misconduct.
Appealing the Outcome of a Title IX Investigation
If your school decides after an investigation that you are responsible for sexual misconduct, you can appeal that decision and request an administrative review. If you appeal, a higher-level Title IX official at your school will review your case and present their findings.
Although appealing a title 9 decision is possible, it's not ideal. Defending yourself successfully is much more difficult after your school has already entered a finding of responsibility against you. An effective appeal is harder because you must show why the school's original decision was wrong. It's much easier to convince your school you were innocent from the beginning.
You avoid this type of disadvantageous situation, you should contact a knowledgeable Title IX lawyer as soon as you find out you're the subject of an investigation. Once you receive notice of a Title IX action against you, you have no time to waste.
The sooner you speak to an experienced advisor about your case, the better chance you'll have at resolving your case earlier in the investigation stage rather than after a hearing.
How a Title IX Lawyer Can Help Your Case
Your Title IX advisor does not have to be a lawyer. However, hiring a lawyer who is experienced in Title 9 cases has a number of advantages and is highly recommended.
First – you should never try to represent yourself in a Title IX case. Any school covered by Title IX allows students accused of sexual misconduct to have an attorney as their advisor. But you don't want just any lawyer to handle your Title IX case. You must find a lawyer who focuses their practice on Title IX and understands the unique challenges of campus disciplinary proceedings.
Your Title IX attorney can help you beyond the investigation process. They can also:
- Prepare and coach you if you're going to testify in a live hearing
- Help you avoid civil or criminal charges that go beyond campus
- Cross-examine your accuser's witnesses on your behalf
- Ensure that your school follows proper Title IX procedure
- Defend you with a unified strategy in any concurrent civil or criminal matters
- File a Title IX due process lawsuit if necessary
Unfortunately, Title IX cases have consequences that go beyond campus. You want to be certain that you not only defend yourself in your Title IX case but also avoid civil or criminal charges being filed against you. A Title IX lawyer can help you handle all of that.
Joseph D. Lento has fought for the rights of students falsely accused of sexual misconduct across the country for many years. The Lento Law Firm has navigated changes to Title IX rules before – we can help you navigate those changes now.
For help with your Title IX investigation, call (888) 535-3686 now to speak with nationally recognized Title IX attorney Joseph D. Lento. The Lento Law Firm has got your back.