Sexual misconduct is among the most serious charges that any university student can face. The penalties can be steep. Typically, suspension is the minimum sanction. Expulsion is a real possibility. Defending yourself is often an arduous road. You will likely face many embarrassing questions. Your patience and fortitude will be put to the test.
What do you do to protect yourself? Start by learning all you can about your situation. Find out what rights you have. Learn what an investigation will look like. Spend time getting a handle on how hearings work. The more you know, the better your chances.
It's important you know, though, that you don't have to go through this experience alone. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is ready to fight to protect your rights. So, read on to get important answers now, but then pick up the phone and call 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.
The starting point for understanding sexual misconduct cases is understanding Title IX. Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 and aimed at reducing sexual discrimination on college campuses. It quickly became the primary tool schools use to investigate and adjudicate allegations. Not every case is a Title IX case, but the vast majority are.
So, how does Title IX work exactly? Essentially, it provides a framework, a set of guidelines all schools must follow during investigations. Those guidelines are written into NIU's sexual misconduct policy.
- If you are accused, the charges will originate with your school's Title IX Coordinator. Anyone at NIU can report misconduct to this officer, but only a complainant—the person claiming to have been harmed—or the Coordinator themselves, can sign a formal complaint against you.
- Once a formal complaint has been signed, the Coordinator must provide you with written notice. This notice will explain the charges, describe the allegation, and identify the complainant. It should also remind you that you have the right to be presumed “not responsible” (innocent) and that you have the right to choose an advisor who may be an attorney. In addition to your advisor, NIU also allows you to select one support person who may also accompany you to all investigative meetings.
- The Coordinator then appoints an Investigator. This person meets separately with both sides in the case. In addition, they interview witnesses and collect any physical evidence.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator completes a written report summarizing their findings. Both sides have the right to examine this document and to suggest revisions before it is forwarded back to the Title IX Coordinator.
- Following the investigation, the Coordinator initiates the hearing process. All hearings are live, though either side may request proceedings be held virtually. Cases are coordinated and decided by an appointed Hearing Official.
- At the hearing, both you and the complainant have the opportunity to submit evidence and call witnesses to support your case. You may also cross-examine one another and any witnesses against you. Advisors are solely responsible for conducting these examinations.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the Hearing Officer deliberates and renders a final decision. In addition, they assign sanctions as necessary. In making their decision, they must use the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Far less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” “preponderance of evidence” requires decision-makers to find you responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed a violation.
- Finally, either side in the case may appeal the Hearing Officer's decision. Appeals must be filed within five days of the end of the hearing. In addition, they may only be filed for certain limited reasons:
◦ A procedural irregularity
◦ New evidence
◦ Bias on the part of a Title IX officer or the Coordinator
◦ An outcome that is clearly unsupported by the facts
◦ A sanction that is disproportionate to the violation.
A Word About Non-Title IX Cases
As noted above, not all sexual misconduct cases are Title IX cases.
In 2020, the Trump administration significantly changed the rules of Title IX by introducing a brand-new set of guidelines. Known as the “Final Rule,” these guidelines narrowed the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictional authority. Many colleges and universities felt that the changes weakened protections for victims and allowed some sexual offenses to go unpunished. In response, these schools drafted new conduct policies designed to catch instances of misconduct that Title IX no longer covered.
Because these “non-Title IX” cases aren't covered by federal law, schools can essentially make up their own procedures. They are under no obligation to provide respondents with due process rights, and some don't
Northern Illinois University was among those schools that revised its Student Conduct Code to include non-Title IX offenses. Fortunately, though, the school has chosen to utilize the same set of procedures for both Title IX and non-Title IX cases.
Joseph D. Lento, Sexual Misconduct Advisor
Here's the bottom line: You can't handle this situation alone. It's simply too complex, with too many moving parts. You need someone in your corner, someone who knows the law and understands academic, judicial policies, someone who's willing to fight tooth and nail to protect your rights.
Joseph D. Lento is a qualified, experienced attorney, but he's not just any attorney. Joseph D. Lento specializes in university cases. He's helped hundreds of students fight sexual misconduct accusations. He's well-versed in Title IX law: he knows its history, and he knows the politics that surround it. Likewise, Joseph D. Lento is skilled at negotiating with faculty and administrators. He spends every day on campus, fighting for students' rights.
Joseph D. Lento stands ready to put this knowledge and experience to work for you. Whether you're looking to prove your innocence or to negotiate a settlement that will let you complete your academic career, Joseph D. Lento is committed to getting you the very best possible resolution to your case.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, don't wait to seek help. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686.