College is hard enough as it is, especially if you're attending an elite school. One minute you're doing differential equations, the next, you're trying to sort out the underlying symbolism in Moby Dick; your parents are constantly pressuring you to switch majors; and your roommate has night terrors. The last thing you need is to be battling an allegation of sexual misconduct.
Unfortunately, university students do sometimes face exactly these kinds of accusations, accusations that can be particularly difficult to fight as a student. Not only can the judicial process at colleges and universities be arcane and confusing, but too many schools deny the accused basic due process rights.
More importantly, the consequences of a guilty verdict can be severe: probation, suspension, even expulsion. That's why if you or your child should find yourself in this situation, the most important decision you can make is to hire an attorney who understands the academic justice system and who knows how to fight for your rights.
Sexual Misconduct Under Title IX
For a number of years, almost all sexual misconduct cases were treated under Title IX. This federal law, passed in 1972, was originally meant to fight sexual discrimination and harassment in public education by withholding government funds from any school that refused to prosecute such cases.
Over time, the federal government, and many schools as well, came to see Title IX as a useful umbrella under which to prosecute sexual misconduct cases, in part because the law laid out very specific guidelines for how investigations and hearings should be handled. The problem with this approach was that it created an incentive for schools to prosecute any and all allegations as vigorously as possible since failing to do so put the school's funding at risk.
Because of its centrality to sexual misconduct cases, any attorney dealing with such a case needs extensive knowledge of Title IX and particularly how to ensure their client is treated fairly during the entire Title IX process.
The Changing Landscape of Sexual Misconduct Law
Title IX changed radically in early 2020, though. That's when the Trump administration, led by education secretary Betsy DeVos, issued revised guidelines on how Title IX should be interpreted. These new guidelines actually tried to restore balance to the system by giving more rights to the accused. Specifically, the administration narrowed the definition of sexual misconduct and instituted stronger due process protections for defendants. These changes were hailed by defense attorneys as a step towards greater equality in academic justice.
In contrast, most schools interpreted the changes as a direct affront to the good work they had been doing to protect victims' rights. Rather than embrace the new guidelines as a necessary correction, many programs chose to redefine how they treated allegations of sexual misconduct. When they felt like Title IX was no longer stringent enough, they simply created new rules in the student code of conduct and instituted new processes for prosecuting alleged violations. As a result, student defendants often had fewer due process rights than they had under the previous Title IX system.
An attorney working on such a case, then, must not only understand Title IX rules and how they have changed and evolved over time, but also how individual schools have responded to those changes.
The Process for Dealing with Sexual Misconduct Allegations at William and Mary
Accusations of sexual misconduct at William and Mary begin with a formal complaint to the “Compliance and Equity” office. The office evaluates such reports within 72 hours and makes decisions about whether to proceed with an investigation and whether or not the accused represents an “ongoing threat.” The fact is, students can sometimes be put on probation or suspended even before an investigation begins.
Trained investigators then collect and review evidence from both parties, including medical records, email, and social media posts, and interview relevant witnesses. They prepare an investigative report and submit it to either a “Determination Official” or a committee sitting under the Determination Official's guidance.
The committee may hold a “live” conference for the purposes of evaluating the evidence and assessing witness credibility. Within two days of this conference, the Determination Official issues a finding and, in consultation with the Dean of Students, assigns any necessary sanctions. Either side may then appeal to an “Appellate Officer” whose decision is final.
Possible Sexual Misconduct Penalties
Sexual Misconduct cases can produce a variety of results under William and Mary's policies. The school offers unique judicial options, for instance, such as “restorative justice” and other “mediated solutions.”
In addition, the school can issue a wide range of sanctions to those found “responsible” for sexual misconduct. These can include anything from verbal warnings to probation, suspension, or expulsion. Expulsion comes with a notation on the student's transcript about the nature of the expulsion, though students can petition for this notation to be removed after three years. Respondents should not be mislead by the school, however, and believe that Title IX or sexual misconduct proceedings are an "educational" opportunity. Everything is on the line, however, because schools often use the sanction of suspension as a baseline if a student is found responsible.
You Need Joseph D. Lento - A National Expert in Title IX Sexual Misconduct Cases
As the above information makes clear, the stakes are high in sexual misconduct cases. Students' educational careers can be disrupted or worse: allegations that become public can haunt a student well beyond their academic career. The academic disciplinary system can be complex, and its rules frequently change. It doesn't operate like a court of law and doesn't afford defendants the same rights. An attorney who isn't experienced in these matters can quickly get in over their head.
Joseph D. Lento has served as an advisor in hundreds of Title IX sexual misconduct cases nationwide. He is empathetic and dogged in his determination to reach a fair outcome. Joseph D. Lento understands Title IX law, but he also knows how to navigate university policies and procedures. If you or your child should find yourself accused of sexual misconduct, make sure your first call is to an experienced attorney. Make sure you call Joseph D. Lento.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.