There is no charge a student can face more serious than sexual misconduct. The minimum penalty for such an offense is typically suspension, and the more likely penalty is expulsion. Worse, colleges and universities don't usually make it easy to defend yourself from accusations. Often, judicial procedures can be a nightmare to navigate; many schools treat respondents (the accused) as guilty from the moment they're accused, and respondents don't have to be found responsible (guilty) “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to face sanctions.
So, what do you do if it happens to you?
- First, you don't panic. Panicking almost always makes the situation worse. You're facing an uphill battle, but it's one you can win.
- Next, you find out all you can about what you're up against. Educate yourself about Title IX. Research how your school defines “consent.” Investigate your school's justice system.
- Finally, and most importantly, you get help. In most cases, the law entitles you to an advisor, and this advisor can be an attorney. Contact a Title IX lawyer immediately so they can begin collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and putting together your defense strategy.
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct
American University handles almost all of its sexual misconduct cases through Title IX. That's a federal law that bans all forms of sexual discrimination and harassment on college campuses. In addition to this general prohibition, Title IX also contains a set of strict guidelines on how schools must investigate and adjudicate allegations. If you've been accused, then start by finding out all you can about this law and how your school applies it.
Here's a brief outline of what American University's Title IX Policy has to say.
- AU, like all other schools, has a Title IX Coordinator. This individual sets school policy on sexual discrimination and decides whether or not to pursue individual allegations.
- If your school opens an investigation against you, the Coordinator must provide you with written notice of the charges. This notice should include details about the allegation as well as the name of the Complainant (the alleged victim).
- Title IX affords you several important rights. Among these, you have the right to be presumed “not responsible”; you have the right to an advisor; you have the right to be investigated and judged by unbiased officials; you have the right to review all evidence against you.
- The Coordinator also has the responsibility of appointing an Investigator to collect evidence in the case.
- Investigators meet regularly with both parties. In addition, they collect any physical evidence and interview all witnesses to the incident.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator completes a written report offering an unbiased summary of their findings. Both sides have ten days to review this document and request any changes before a final copy is forwarded to the Coordinator.
- Once they've received the Investigative Report, the Coordinator sets a date and time for a live hearing and appoints a three-member panel to preside over the proceedings.
- During the hearing, both sides have an opportunity to make arguments, present evidence, and call witnesses. In addition, you have the right to cross-examine one another and any witnesses against you. Only advisors may examine witnesses, however. If you do not have an advisor, the school must provide you with one, though they are not required to provide you with an attorney.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, panel members deliberate as to your responsibility (guilt or innocence). The final outcome is the result of a majority vote. In deciding the case, panel members use a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” According to this standard, they must find you responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed an offense.
- You may appeal the hearing outcome, but only on four very specific grounds—a procedural irregularity that affected the outcome; new evidence that has a bearing on the case; a conflict of interest on the part of a Title IX official; a sanction that is disproportionate to the offense. In addition, you must file your appeal within seven business days of receiving notification of the hearing outcome.
Non-Title IX Cases at the American University
Most AU sexual misconduct cases are Title IX cases, but not all. That's because the Title IX rules changed in 2020. Among other things, the Trump administration narrowed the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictional authority. So, for example, incidents that take place off campus are no longer covered under the law. Instead, American University, and schools like it, passed new school policies to deal with these so-called “Non-Title IX” cases.
Because these cases aren't subject to federal law, schools are under no obligation to follow any particular set of procedures. Nor are they required to provide respondents with any particular due process rights. Many, in fact, don't. American University's Non-Title IX Policy, for instance, doesn't give students the right to a hearing. Instead, the Investigator in the case has the sole authority to decide whether or not a respondent is responsible and assigns any sanctions as necessary. You do have the right to appeal this decision, but the same restrictions that apply to Title IX cases apply in these cases as well.
While non-Title IX cases can sometimes be simpler than Title IX cases, and are almost always completed more quickly, they can also be dangerously unfair for respondents. In these cases, then, it can be even more important that you have a Title IX attorney on your side to help safeguard your rights.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified defense attorney. He's not just any defense attorney, though. Joseph D. Lento is what's known as a “Title IX attorney.” Essentially, he specializes in handling campus sexual misconduct cases. In fact, over the years, Joseph D. Lento has handled hundreds of such cases for students just like you, making sure they're treated fairly and that their schools afford them every due process right they deserve. Joseph D. Lento is familiar with both Title IX and non-Title IX cases. He also knows how to talk to school faculty and administrators. Most importantly, Joseph D. Lento is on your side. Whatever you're facing, he's committed to making sure that you get the best possible resolution to your case.
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.