No college student expects to be accused of sexual misconduct. Yet, each year, hundreds are. Often, those who are accused don't take the situation seriously enough. They believe things will work themselves out on their own, or if they are found responsible, they'll only receive a slap on the wrist.
The fact is, a sexual misconduct allegation is incredibly serious. Federal law requires that schools look closely at every single accusation. The investigation and adjudication processes are complicated and confusing. Sanctions for students who are found responsible are frequently severe. The minimum penalty in such cases is typically suspension. More commonly, schools simply expel students for violating policy.
Get the facts now. Find out what the law has to say about sexual misconduct and how Georgia Southern University interprets the law. Learn what kinds of procedures you'll be dealing with if you should ever be accused. Know how to defend yourself. Are you sure it can't happen to you? It can. The Lento Law Firm can help.
For many years, colleges and universities handled essentially all of their sexual misconduct cases through Title IX. That's the federal law, passed in 1972, that prohibits sexual discrimination in education. Understanding sexual misconduct, then, begins with understanding Title IX.
First, it's important to recognize that “discrimination” has a broad meaning under the law. It doesn't just mean “unequal treatment.” Instead, it applies to any action that could potentially interfere with a woman's right to an equal education. That includes anything, from online harassment, to stalking, assault, and date rape.
Given the seriousness of these crimes and of the potential punishments, you might expect that schools would be required to maintain very strict procedures for investigating and deciding such allegations. Unfortunately, that hasn't always been the case. Until recently, for instance, respondents weren't guaranteed a formal hearing. They didn't necessarily have the right to cross-examine witnesses. In some cases, they didn't have access to legal representation.
Recent changes in the law have solved some of these problems. In 2020, the Trump administration issued a set of guidelines for how investigations and hearings should be conducted. The goal was both to standardize procedures and to ensure respondents were afforded their due process rights.
However, the Title IX Final Rule, as it's known, caused some new problems as well. For example, it narrowed the circumstances under which schools can investigate sexual misconduct to incidents on campus or at campus-sponsored events. Rather than accept these new limitations, many colleges and universities looked for loopholes in the law. The most common of these was to create new school policies that would cover sexual misconduct that no longer fit the narrower guidelines.
Now, instead of one set of procedures, most schools have two parallel sets of procedures: one for Title IX cases, and one for non-Title IX cases. That means things are more confusing than ever for those who find themselves accused.
Title IX Procedures
Let's start with Title IX cases. If your case fits Title IX parameters, what will happen to you?
- Cases begin with a formal accusation. This must be signed either by the claimant or the school's Title IX coordinator.
- The coordinator must decide whether to pursue the case or dismiss it. Federal law encourages them to pursue all but the most unlikely accusations.
- Once the coordinator decides to move forward, they must first apprise both sides of their rights. You should know you have the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty; you have the right to have the charges explained to you; and you have the right to appoint an advisor to help you. According to the law, this advisor can be an attorney, and they can accompany you to all meetings related to the case.
- The coordinator then appoints an investigator to look into the matter. This investigator interviews both parties. In addition, they collect physical evidence and solicit witness testimony.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator compiles a report of their findings. Both sides have an opportunity to respond to this report before it is submitted to the Title IX coordinator.
- The coordinator next sets a hearing date and appoints a Hearing Officer to oversee the proceedings. At Georgia Southern University, this officer appoints a panel of faculty, administrators, and students from a pool of individuals who have been specially trained to judge sexual misconduct cases.
- At the hearing, advisors for both sides ask questions of the other party and any witnesses.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the panel decides whether or not the respondent is “responsible” for the violation. In addition, they assign sanctions as necessary.
- Finally, both sides are entitled to appeal the decision. However, appeals can only be made for very specific reasons, including the discovery of new evidence, an accusation of procedural error, or a finding that clearly doesn't fit with the evidence.
Non-Title IX Procedures
Georgia Southern University's non-Title IX investigations and hearings are based on policy set forth by the University System of Georgia. That policy generally follows Title IX guidelines. For example, there is both an investigation and hearing. There are, however, some notable differences between the two.
- In both kinds of cases, respondents are entitled to select an advisor to help them with the case. However, in non-Title IX investigations, advisors “may not actively participate in the process.”
- Similarly, the role of advisors is more limited in non-Title IX hearings. In such cases, only the hearing chair is allowed to ask questions, though respondents and their advisors may submit questions to be asked.
These differences are subtle, but they can have a large impact on a defense strategy.
What to Do When it Happens to You
Even under the new Title IX guidelines, respondents aren't entitled to the same rights as defendants in a court of law. The rules of evidence are limited, and decision-makers don't have to use the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. Instead, they most often use the far less strict “preponderance of evidence” standard to decide responsibility. Essentially, they must only believe it is “more likely than not” the respondent violated policy.
Given these conditions, you need someone in your corner looking out for your interests, someone who knows the law but who also understands the unique circumstances of university disciplinary justice. You need Attorney Joseph D. Lento. Joseph D. Lento has years of experience representing clients just like you from charges of sexual misconduct. He's defended hundreds of students from Title IX and non-Title IX accusations across the United States. Joseph D. Lento knows how schools operate, and he stands ready to fight for your rights.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct by your college or university, act now to protect your future. Call the Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm today at at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.