Colleges and universities have an obligation to protect their students. We can all agree this applies to students' physical and emotional well-being. No one should ever be a victim of sexual discrimination or harassment, and schools have a responsibility to investigate incidents and punish offenders.
We sometimes forget, though, that colleges and universities also have an obligation to treat accused students fairly. Due process is one of the foundational principles of American justice. Yet, too often, schools get so caught up in protecting victims that they forget the accused has the right to be presumed innocent.
If you've been accused of sexual misconduct, you should know that you're facing an uphill battle. That doesn't mean you can't win. It just means you need to do everything you can to prepare yourself and that you're going to need help building your defense.
Title IX Cases
Your first assignment is to learn all you can about Title IX. The University of Alabama processes all of its sexual misconduct cases using Title IX.
What is Title IX? It's a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment in all US education programs, including colleges and universities. “Discrimination” and “harassment” are broadly defined to include a range of offenses, from simple verbal harassment to stalking, dating violence, and rape.
In addition to the law itself, the federal government maintains a strict set of guidelines for how schools should investigate and adjudicate allegations.
- The University of South Alabama must have a designated Title IX Coordinator. This individual sets policy and decides whether or not to pursue accusations.
- If the Coordinator decides to open an official investigation, you are entitled to notice of the charges. This notice should include the name of the Complainant (your accuser) as well as the details of the allegation.
- Title IX gives you a number of additional rights. Among these is the right to be presumed “not responsible” (innocent) until proven responsible. You also have the right to an advisor, who may be an attorney. And you have the right to review all evidence against you.
- The Coordinator appoints an Investigator to look into the case. This person hears from both sides. In addition, they interview any potential witnesses and collect physical evidence.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator completes an Investigative Report summarizing their findings. Both sides have the right to review this document and suggest revisions before it is forwarded to the Title IX Coordinator.
- Once they've received the Investigative Report, the Coordinator sets a time and date for an official, live hearing. In addition, they select one or more Decision-Makers to preside over the case and determine the outcome.
- Both sides have an opportunity to present their cases at the hearing. This means submitting evidence and calling witnesses. In addition, you may cross-examine each other and any witnesses against you. Cross-examination, however, must be conducted by your advisors.
- Decision-Makers render their decisions in the case based on a standard known as “preponderance of evidence.” Essentially, they are required to find you responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed an offense. Decision-Makers also determine sanctions when necessary.
- You have the right to appeal the hearing outcome under certain conditions. These include the discovery of new evidence, the revelation of bias on the part of a Title IX administrator, or proof of procedural error.
Non-Title IX Cases
Current Title IX guidelines were enacted in 2020. Among other changes to the law, the federal government narrowed the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictional authority. As a result, some types of sexual misconduct were no longer covered under the law. For example, incidents that occur off-campus are no longer Title IX offenses.
In response, many schools changed their own conduct policies to deal with these so-called non-Title IX offenses. For the most part, the University of South Alabama has not changed its policies. Instead, it has chosen to pursue only sexual misconduct cases that still fit within the narrower confines of the current guidelines.
However, the school reserves the right to prosecute non-Title IX sexual misconduct if it involves offenses that are related to the Student Code of Conduct. A sexual assault at an off-campus apartment complex might, for instance, be dealt with as a violation of the school's policy against violence and would be subject to the same judicial processes as any other Code of Conduct violation.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help
The last thing you need to know about sexual misconduct cases at USA is that sanctions can be severe if you are found responsible. The minimum penalty in these cases is usually suspension. More likely, your school will expel you. In either case, the school could include a transcript notation about the exact nature of your offense. That could keep you from enrolling anywhere else. If you find yourself expelled, your academic career could essentially be over.
In short, everything is on the line. The full weight of your school—to say nothing of the federal government—is against you. Procedures are complex and difficult to navigate. You need someone on your side, someone who can not only offer advice but who can represent you in meetings and proceedings. You need Joseph D. Lento.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney who specializes in college and university sexual misconduct cases. He's spent years studying Title IX. He knows the history of the law, and he knows the politics that often influence it. In addition, though, he spends every day dealing with school faculty and administrators, helping students like you get the justice they deserve. He knows campus lingo. He knows the tactics your school is likely to use and how to counter them. Most of all, Joseph D. Lento is on your side. Whatever you've been accused of, he recognizes that you are entitled to due process and a fair result. He'll fight to make sure you get the very 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.