College is hard enough as it is. You're trying to maintain your grade point average despite being forced to take astronomy. Your parents keep insisting you're going to med school. Your roommate has night terrors. That's a fair amount of stress for anyone to be dealing with.
An allegation of sexual misconduct can make all that look like a Sunday stroll in the park, though. Investigators may turn your life upside down. Friends may suddenly view you with suspicion. You may even come to doubt yourself.
If you should find yourself in this unfortunate position, how do you deal with it? Your very first job is to educate yourself about your school's judicial processes. You may think you know how investigations and prosecutions work. After all, you've seen your fair share of Law and Order episodes. Unfortunately, schools often have their own sets of policies and procedures, and those can be far more confusing than anything you'd face in an actual court of law.
San Jose State University's procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct allegations derive from policies set down by the California State University system. Those policies remain in a state of flux. The first thing you'll find if you visit CSU's “Systemwide Policy Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation, Sexual Misconduct and Domestic Violence, and Stalking Against Students and Procedures for Addressing” page, is that the policy that you are about to read has already been superseded by a series of addenda. The new rules are so fresh the old rules still come first in the document.
In fact, California isn't the only state where the rules are still up in the air.
For many years, most colleges and universities used Title IX for guidance on how to deal with sexual misconduct. This federal law, passed in 1972, encouraged schools to investigate and prosecute sexual discrimination and harassment and threatened to withhold funding from any who refused. It also set up a set of rules for how investigations and prosecutions should proceed.
From the very beginning, the law was not clear-cut. The definition of “harassment,” for instance, shifted over time to include any sexually-based offense, from biased grading to rape. All these crimes were lumped together and treated using one set of procedures. The procedures began to evolve as well. Little by little, the government offered more protections to victims, but often at the expense of defendants' rights.
The Trump administration decided in early 2020 to address the growing problems with Title IX. While their efforts may have been well-meaning, the arguable result was greater chaos. Among the changes they made, the administration narrowed the definition of “harassment,” limited school jurisdictions, and restored some rights to the accused. Some schools actually sued the administration to keep the new rules from going into effect. Others chose to create two separate investigative tracks: one for violations they could still treat under Title IX and one for those that didn't fit the revised law's stricter definitions.
Since August 2020, when the new rules went into effect, the situation hasn't become any clearer. The Biden administration has already begun the process of undoing the previous administration's Title IX changes. No one can say with certainty, then, what Title IX rules will look like in the future.
San Jose State is among those schools that chose to create two separate tracks for prosecuting allegations of sexual misconduct. Those two tracks have a number of similarities, but some key differences as well.
In both cases, the process begins when a student files a complaint with the Title IX office. The Title IX coordinator then makes a decision about the merits of the complaint and which track it should be investigated under. The coordinator appoints an investigator who has 60 days to interview both parties, interview witnesses, and collect any physical evidence. Both parties are allowed to choose advisors, and these advisors may be attorneys.
At the end of these 60 days, the investigator submits a report outlining his or her findings to both parties. Once both parties have been given an opportunity to respond, this report is then turned over to a hearing committee. That hearing committee has the responsibility for deciding the case and recommending any penalties.
This is where the two processes diverge.
Under the new Title IX rules, attorneys for both parties may speak for their clients throughout the hearing. They may make opening and closing arguments. They also have the right to examine and cross-examine any witnesses. In many ways, the hearing resembles what happens in an actual courtroom.
Non-Title IX hearings work differently. While advisors may accompany their clients to the hearing, they may speak only to their clients. They may not address the hearing committee. While they may submit questions for witnesses, only the court may ask those questions, and the court has sole discretion in deciding whether to do so.
The penalties are the same under either procedure and can vary widely, depending on the specific nature of the offense. They can include housing reassignment, no-contact orders, and mandated counseling. They often are more serious, however, including probation, suspension, and expulsion. Expulsion also comes with a transcript notation that explains the nature of the offense. Such a notation often makes it difficult for a student to re-enroll at another college. Any finding of responsibility, however, can have life-altering consequences on academic and professional goals.
National Title IX Attorney Joseph D. Lento
Allegations of sexual misconduct are extremely serious. Even unfounded allegations can ruin a student's career and reputation if they are somehow made public. San Jose State makes no promises to keep case materials confidential.
If you or your child find yourselves accused of sexual misconduct, don't take chances trying to fight a confusing justice system whose rules are constantly changing. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento. Joseph D. Lento specializes in student discipline matters and has unparalleled experience defending clients against sexual misconduct charges. He knows the history of Title IX, and he keeps a close eye on how the law continues to evolve. Joseph D. Lento is empathetic and will stand with you from start to finish, protecting your rights and ensuring you get the best possible outcome.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.