If your college or university has accused you of sexual misconduct, you're probably experiencing a lot of conflicting emotions right now. You may be feeling hurt that someone you know, possibly even loved, has made such an allegation against you. You're likely angry at how the school is treating you. Certainly, you're overwhelmed by the situation you find yourself in.
A sexual misconduct investigation is serious. Your entire future is on the line, and the processes and procedures you're facing can be confusing and difficult to navigate.
Take a deep breath. You can survive this. You're going to need help, though. So, find out all you can about your school's judicial system, how they punish violations, and what your rights are. Most importantly, though, learn how to find the right person to help because you can't do this alone, and you shouldn't have to.
Vincennes University deals with most of its sexual misconduct cases using Title IX guidelines, so your education begins with learning all you can about this federal law.
Title IX was passed in 1972. Its original purpose was to eliminate sexual discrimination in U.S. educational programs, including colleges and universities. That has come to mean protecting all students from all forms of sexual misconduct, from simple verbal harassment to dating violence, to rape.
For a number of years, the government didn't offer schools much guidance about how they should investigate and adjudicate such cases. Left to their own devices, universities frequently used procedures that denied the accused of many of their due process rights, such as the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the right to cross-examine witnesses against them.
Then, things improved, at least to some degree, in 2020, when the Trump administration issued what it called the “Final Rule.” This was a set of guidelines dictating exactly how campus investigations should work. Among other things, the Final Rule narrowed the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment,” limited schools' jurisdictional authority, and secured some important rights for respondents.
For now, then, the process in Title IX cases works like this:
- Accusations must first be submitted to the Title IX Coordinator. Only a complainant or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint.
- Once a complaint has been signed, the Coordinator must provide written notice to the respondent (accused). This notice should include the name of the complainant as well as details of the alleged violation. It should also advise respondents of their rights. Among these, they have the right to be presumed “not responsible” until proven “responsible” and to appoint an advisor to help them with the case. Importantly, this advisor can be an attorney.
- The Coordinator then assigns the case to an Investigator. This individual meets with both sides in the case. In addition, they interview witnesses and collect any physical evidence such as clothing, texts, or video.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator writes a detailed report summarizing their findings. Both sides have the opportunity to read through this document and make revision suggestions. Ultimately, the document is forwarded to the Title IX Coordinator.
- The Coordinator then assigns a Hearing Officer to organize a live hearing into the matter. The Hearing Officer may decide the case themselves, or they may appoint a panel of Decision-Makers to hear it.
- At the hearing, both sides have a chance to argue their side of the case. They may submit evidence, call witnesses, and—through their advisors—cross-examine the other party and any witnesses against them.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the Decision-Makers decide the case using the “preponderance of evidence” standard.” This standard, less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” allows Decision-Makers to find the respondent responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” the respondent committed a violation. Decision-Makers also assign sanctions as necessary.
- Both sides have the right to appeal the Decision-Makers' findings. However, they have a limited window of opportunity in which to do this. In addition, appeals may only be filed for certain very specific reasons, such as:
- The discovery of new evidence
- Mistakes in the Title IX procedures
- Clear bias on the part of a Title IX official
Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct
Most cases are still decided under Title IX guidelines, but not all. Many schools were unhappy with Trump's Final Rule, especially its limitations on their jurisdictions. In response, these schools created alternative procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct that no longer fit Title IX definitions, so-called “non-Title IX sexual misconduct.”
Most “non-Title IX” cases at Vincennes are treated the same as Title IX cases. That's good news. It means, for instance, that respondents are entitled to all the same considerations as complainants. Both sides have an equal right to supportive measures; both sides have an equal right to present evidence and suggest witnesses; both sides have an equal right to appeal the findings of the hearing.
However, Vincennes policy suggests that some cases may be dealt with using an entirely different set of procedures:
"[T]he Title IX Coordinator may, in their discretion, continue to move forward with the procedures under this policy or may refer the matter to the appropriate University official for resolution under the applicable disciplinary procedures."
It isn't entirely clear what those other procedures might be, though presumably, they would fall under the Student Code of Conduct disciplinary policies. If so, they would involve:
- An initial hearing conducted by the Dean of Students
- The right to appeal the initial decision to the Student Life Advisory Committee
- The further right to appeal the Student Life Advisory Committee's decision to the Provost
While the school doesn't outline any of these hearing procedures, the good news is that respondents are entitled to choose an advisor who, as in Title IX cases, may be an attorney.
Joseph D. Lento, Sexual Misconduct Attorney
Vincennes University lists several possible sanctions for sexual misconduct violations, including verbal warnings, removal from housing, restitution, and mandated counseling. However, the truth is that the minimum penalty is almost always suspension. More often, in these cases, respondents who are found responsible are expelled. Since expulsion comes with a transcript notation, an expulsion can make it difficult, if not impossible, to enroll anywhere else. Your academic career could effectively be over.
The stakes are high, then, and the process can be confusing at best. Make sure you have the very best help you can find.
Joseph D. Lento is an attorney who specializes in Title IX and non-Title IX sexual misconduct cases across the United States. He built his career defending students just like you against all kinds of charges. Joseph D. Lento knows the law, but he also knows how colleges and universities operate. He understands the academic culture and what kinds of biases faculty and administrators often bring to judicial processes. Whether you're looking to prove your innocence or to negotiate a fair resolution, attorney Joseph D. Lento will protect your rights and get you the outcome you deserve.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, don't wait to act. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.