If you've been charged with sexual misconduct by your college or university, the first thing you need to know is that you can't handle this situation on your own. The accusation is serious. So are the punishments if you're found “responsible” (guilty). The minimum sanction is usually suspension. The more likely sanction is dismissal from the university. Dismissal often includes a transcript notation about the nature of your offense, and that can keep you from transferring anywhere else. Your academic career could effectively be over.
You're allowed to defend yourself, but the law says you don't have to. Instead, you have the right to choose an advisor, someone to help you prepare your case, someone to stand beside you during the investigation, and someone to represent you at hearings. In addition, the law says this advisor can be an attorney.
There's a reason you have this right. Judicial procedures in these cases are complicated. Only an attorney knows how they work; only an attorney can help make sure you get all the rights you deserve. Not just any attorney will do, though. You need a Title IX attorney.
Title IX Sexual Misconduct
Why do you need a Title IX attorney? As a starting point, Southern Illinois University handles most of its sexual misconduct allegations using guidelines set by Title IX. Title IX is a federal law originally passed in 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment on university campuses. In addition to this general prohibition, the law also sets forth a strict set of rules for how schools should handle investigations and adjudications.
The law is complex. It runs to some 550 pages. SIU's own interpretation of the law is an additional fifty pages. We've included the highlights below, but that's a lot to try and digest before the investigation begins. In short, you need someone beside you who already knows the law.
- Your school has a designated Title IX Coordinator. Anyone may report you for a sexual misconduct violation, but only a Complainant (alleged victim) or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint against you.
- If the Coordinator opens an investigation, they must provide you with a “Notice of the Charges.” This notice should identify the Complainant and provide details of the allegation. In addition, it should set forth your rights as Respondent (accused). Among these, you have the right to:
- Be presumed “not responsible” (innocent) until proven “responsible” (guilty)
- Be treated as equal to the Complainant in all matters
- Select an advisor, who may be an attorney
- Be investigated and judged by non-biased officials
- Review all evidence against you
- Receive advanced notice of all meetings and proceedings in the case
- Next, the Coordinator appoints an Investigator to the case. The Investigator typically begins by meeting separately with both sides. This is your first chance to offer your version of events. As the investigation continues, the Investigator goes on to interview witnesses and collect any physical evidence.
- At SIU, investigations must be completed within thirty days. Once they've completed their work, the Investigator creates an unbiased summary of their findings. Both sides in the case have the right to review this document and suggest revisions to any piece of information they might object to.
- The Investigative Report is then forwarded to the Title IX Coordinator. Upon receiving the Investigative Report, the Coordinator sets a time and date for a live hearing and selects one or more decision makers to oversee the case.
- Hearings must be live, but either side may request they be held via closed-circuit video.
- At the hearing itself, both sides may make arguments, present evidence, and call witnesses. In addition, you may—through your advisors—cross-examine each other and any witnesses against you.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, decision-makers determine whether or not you are responsible for a violation. To do this, they use a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” In simple terms, they must find you responsible (guilty) if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed an offense. This is a far less strict standard than the one you may be more familiar with, “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.”
- Finally, either side in the case can appeal the hearing decision. However, grounds for appeal are strictly limited to:
- Procedural irregularities that affected the case outcome
- New evidence that could have affected the case outcome
- Bias on the part of a Title IX official that could have affected the case outcome
- A sanction disproportionate to the nature of the offense
Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct
Title IX changed significantly in 2020. The rules were essentially rewritten, and among other changes, some forms of sexual misconduct are no longer covered under the law. Off-campus incidents, for instance, do not currently qualify as Title IX offenses. In response to these changes, many schools, including Southern Illinois University, rewrote their own policies to handle what are now known as “Non-Title IX” incidents.
Non-Title IX cases are not subject to any federal law, so schools are free to investigate them in any way they see fit. They don't have to follow Title IX procedures, and they don't have to provide respondents with due process rights.
Luckily, ISU has elected to use Title IX procedures in both types of cases. No matter how you are charged, you'll face the same procedures and be entitled to the same fair treatment.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
By this point, you probably have a pretty good sense of why you might need an attorney if you're charged with a sexually-based offense. It's simple, really: your entire future is at stake, and procedures in these cases can be complex and difficult to navigate.
You need help, the best help you can find.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified defense attorney. He's not just any defense attorney, though. Joseph D. Lento is a Title IX attorney. That means he specializes in handling campus sexual misconduct cases. He understands Title IX, its history, and its politics, but he's also experienced at dealing with non-Title IX cases. Joseph D. Lento has dedicated his career to fighting for student rights. Over the years, he has handled hundreds of cases for students just like you, making sure they're treated fairly and that they get the justice they deserve.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, don't wait to act. The school is already preparing its case. You should be too. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.