Since 2015, the sexual misconduct policy at Florida International University has been revised 12 times. Should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being accused of sexual misconduct at the school, how in the world are you supposed to navigate through that kind of confusion?
The answer is, you don't, at least not by yourself. FIU allows students who are accused of sexual misconduct to choose an advisor who may be an attorney. Your first call, then, should be to an attorney who understands how to defend students, someone who is an expert on sexual misconduct allegations and knows how to navigate the complexities of university bureaucracy.
The thing is, colleges and universities aren't obligated to provide students with the same due process rights they would get in a court of law. For instance, students aren't always allowed the right to cross-examine witnesses. That means it's important to make sure you have someone on your side who knows how to fight to get you every right you deserve.
Where the Confusion All Began
For a number of years now, colleges and universities have prosecuted most instances of sexual misconduct under the federal government's Title IX law. This law, passed in 1972, encouraged schools to fight sexual discrimination and harassment. That in itself was a worthy goal, particularly given just how hostile college campuses were to women in the early 1970s. However, to enforce the law, the government threatened to withhold federal funding from any schools that didn't comply. That created an incentive for schools to pursue prosecutions zealously, sometimes too zealously.
Title IX grew more complicated as the law evolved. Over time, the government broadened the definition of “harassment” to include a wide variety of misconduct, from unequal treatment in the classroom, to stalking, sexual assault, and date rape. Even social media posts could be prosecuted under Title IX.
Again, no one could fault the government for trying to protect victims of sexual crimes, or colleges and universities for trying to make their campuses safe environments for students. Protecting victims' rights, however, came to be more important than protecting defendants' rights.
Early in 2020, the Trump administration issued new Title IX guidelines designed to restore balance in campus judicial systems. Under the new rules, for instance, defendants had the right to a hearing and to cross-examine witnesses. In addition, the administration narrowed the definition of “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictions.
These changes might have brought clarity to a confusing system. In fact, they only brought more chaos. Rather than accept the Title IX changes as a much-needed correction, most schools saw them as an affront to their own authority and an effort to undermine the positive strides they had made towards gender equality. A handful of schools even sued the government to prevent the new rules from going into effect.
Most schools, however, took another approach: they found ways to circumvent Title IX when the new guidelines didn't suit them. The most common strategy was to create a separate track for sexual misconduct violations that were no longer covered under Title IX. As a result, students accused of sexual misconduct could find themselves prosecuted under Title IX rules or under the university's own code of conduct.
Where Florida International University Stands on Sexual Misconduct
Like many of its peer institutions, FIU ultimately chose to shift behaviors that no longer rose to the level of Title IX misconduct into their Student Code of Conduct. Where Title IX now provided increased due process protections to the accused, the process for prosecuting violations of the student code did not.
- A student accused of sexual misconduct under the student code of conduct has the “option” to choose an informal rather than a formal hearing. This option is meant to sound appealing. However, it puts the entire responsibility for fact-finding and judgment in the hands of a single individual.
- Students have the right to request a formal hearing. However, this hearing can be either a student conduct committee hearing or an administrative hearing. Like an informal hearing, an administrative hearing involves a single judge who makes all determinations as to guilt or innocence. The Student Conduct Office has sole discretion in deciding which kind of hearing a student will face.
- As in Title IX cases, in student conduct cases, students may have an advisor. However, in student conduct cases, that advisor is not allowed to speak during the process other than to the student.
- The student code of conduct does not outline investigative procedures, which means these procedures are not transparent.
- The university reserves the right to see any evidence the defendant plans to present at the hearing at least three days before the hearing begins.
As the above procedure descriptions suggest, the judicial process at FIU doesn't afford the accused in a sexual misconduct case many due process rights. The school informs the student of the allegation, and the student can respond. However, in most cases, single individuals determine guilt or innocence and decide what penalties to impose.
In addition, FIU's code of conduct makes clear that the school does not use “beyond a reasonable doubt” as their standard for determining guilt but rather a “preponderance of evidence” standard. In simplest terms, the school must only decide whether it is “more likely or not” a violation occurred.
At the same time, penalties for students found responsible for sexual misconduct can be severe. These can include psychological evaluation and counseling, fines or restitution, loss of housing, suspension, and even expulsion. Expulsion includes a permanent transcript notation as to the nature of the expulsion, a notation that will essentially prevent a student from enrolling at another institution.
Put Joseph D. Lento in Your Corner
If you or your child should be accused of sexual misconduct at Florida International University, make sure your first call is to attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. Joseph D. Lento is an expert on sexual misconduct cases, whether they involve Title IX or student code of conduct violations. He's defended hundreds of clients against such allegations. Most importantly, he knows how to ensure you get the due process rights you deserve, and he will work tirelessly to get you the very best possible outcome.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.