Colleges and universities take sexual misconduct extremely seriously, as well they should. We all believe women deserve the same rights as men. We all believe that all students deserve to be protected and that victims of violent offenses deserve justice.
Sometimes, though, we get so caught up in worrying about victims that we forget: not everyone who's been accused of committing misconduct is guilty. What of them? How do we ensure that in our rush to protect students we don't wind up mistreating those who are actually innocent? How can we be certain we give everyone a fair hearing and that we don't decide anyone is Responsible (guilty) until they've been proven Responsible?
Luckily, most of these cases are governed by federal law, and the law recognizes that accused students deserve rights and that only when those who have been charged are given due process can we hope to get at anything like justice. The law isn't perfect, though. You still have to be vigilant in making sure you're treated fairly. That starts with knowing exactly how the law works.
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct
Most sexual misconduct cases at Pasco-Hernando State College are dealt with using rules and procedures set forth in Title IX. What is Title IX? It's a federal law, originally passed in 1972, that prohibits all forms of sexual discrimination and harassment on college campuses. Over the years, Title IX has evolved as the courts, and various presidential administrations have had their say on how it should be enforced. One significant development in that evolution was the Trump Administration's adoption, in 2020, of what it called “The Final Rule,” a set of guidelines that dictate exactly how schools must conduct investigations and hearings. Again, those guidelines are far from perfect. However, they do provide respondents (accused students) with some important rights.
Here's a brief overview of how Pasco-Hernando State College interprets Title IX and what you can expect if you've been accused.
- All schools must have a designated Title IX Coordinator. At PHSC, the Dean of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management serves in this role. This person ensures the school complies will all aspects of the law. In addition, they are responsible for deciding whether or not an allegation warrants a formal investigation.
- Title IX requires that you receive notification of any charges that have been filed against you. This notification must include the name of the Complainant (alleged victim) as well as all relevant details of the allegation, crucial information in building your defense.
- You have a number of other important rights under Title IX. Among these, you have the right to be treated the same as the Complainant in all matters; you have the right to an advisor, who may be an attorney; you have the right to be presumed Not Responsible until proven Responsible; and you have the right to be investigated and judged by officials free of bias.
- Once Notice of Charges has been issued, the next phase of the case begins, an investigation. The investigation is led by an Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management from a campus other than the one where the alleged incident occurred.
- The Investigator meets separately with both parties. They gather any physical evidence and interview any potential witnesses.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator completes a written, unbiased summary of their findings. You have the right to review this document and to suggest any revisions you feel are necessary.
- The final draft of the Investigative Report is forwarded to the Title IX Coordinator. The Coordinator then sets a time and date for a live hearing. In addition, they select members of a Title IX Committee to preside over the proceedings.
- At the hearing, you may make arguments, present evidence, and call witnesses. In addition, you may—through your advisor—cross-examine the Complainant and any witnesses against you. Likewise, the Complainant presents their case against you.
- Once both sides have had an opportunity to present their cases, the Committee deliberates as to your level of responsibility. In doing so, they apply a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” In simple terms, they must find you responsible if they are more than fifty percent convinced you committed an offense.
- Both sides have the right to appeal the hearing outcome. However, appeals must be filed ten days from receiving Notification of the Outcome. In addition, grounds for appeal are strictly limited to procedural irregularities or the discovery of new evidence that has some bearing on the outcome.
Finally, you should know that not every sexual misconduct case is a Title IX case. In particular, off-campus incidents are no longer covered under the law and thus are no longer handled using Title IX procedures.
For the most part, PHSC's Student Disciplinary Procedures mirror its Title IX procedures. The two kinds of cases are even handled by the same administrative official, the Dean of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. Both involve an investigation. Both allow you to defend yourself at a live hearing. Keep in mind, though, that PHSC is under no obligation to provide you with any particular due process rights, since its own procedures aren't subject to federal oversight. Its description of procedures makes no mention of how it safeguards respondent rights.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
It's no exaggeration to say that everything is at stake in a sexual misconduct case. The minimum penalty you'll face is probably suspension. The more likely penalty is expulsion. If you're expelled, your expulsion includes a transcript notation about the nature of your offense. That will prevent most other schools from admitting you. Your academic career could effectively be over.
Don't take chances with your future. Don't try to handle a misconduct charge by yourself. You're entitled to an advisor, who may be an attorney. Make the very best use of this right.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified defense attorney, but he's not just any defense attorney. He's what's known as a Title IX attorney. Here's what that means: Joseph D. Lento built his career defending students just like you from sexual misconduct charges. He knows the law, inside and out. He's studied the Title IX statute and is comfortable working under both Title IX and non-Title IX procedures. In addition, Joseph D. Lento knows how schools operate. He knows the tactics they often use, and he has experience fighting those tactics. Most importantly, though, Joseph D. Lento is on your side. He understands what you're going through, and he'll do everything he can to make sure you're treated fairly and that you get the best possible resolution to your case.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, make sure you have the best legal representation you can find. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.