College is a great experience, but it almost always comes with its fair share of trauma. No one manages to graduate from Clemson University, or anywhere for that matter, completely unscathed by the experience. The thing is, as smart as you may think you are when you show up on campus freshman year, you still have a lot of learning to do, and not just about chemistry.
If you're lucky, your lessons in adulting won't do you any more serious harm than ruining your laundry or getting your heart broken. You could wind up facing more serious problems in college, though. Each year, hundreds of students find themselves accused of sexual misconduct. What do you do if you should happen to be one of them?
First, tell your parents. Although they'll be troubled to hear, you need them more than ever during such an ordeal. Second, call an attorney. You can't handle this situation on your own. Then, take the time to educate yourself about how your school deals with sexual misconduct. The more you know, the better you'll be able to defend yourself.
A Brief History of Title IX
Schools investigate and prosecute most cases of sexual misconduct using the federal government's Title IX statute. This law, passed in 1972, was designed to limit sexual discrimination and harassment in all federally funded educational programs. That included public colleges and universities.
Since it was passed, the law has undergone several fundamental changes. First among these, the federal government gradually expanded the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” to include a wide variety of behaviors, from verbal abuse to stalking, assault, and rape. This complicated how the law was enforced.
At the same time, the government slowly whittled away at defendants' due process rights. Only a few years ago, defendants weren't even entitled to a hearing at most schools. Once you were accused, an investigator investigated the matter, and this single person determined whether or not you were guilty. In most cases, respondents weren't allowed to present evidence, call their own witnesses, or cross-examine prosecution witnesses.
Things improved to some extent in 2020. Early that year, under the advisement of Education Secretary Betsy Devos, the Trump administration issued brand new guidelines for how Title IX cases should proceed. Among other changes, the new guidelines narrowed the definition of “harassment,” limited universities' jurisdiction, and made hearings mandatory.
These changes were an important step in the right direction, but significant inequities remain between how complainants and respondents are treated. In addition, the Trump administration's revisions are far from permanent. In fact, the Biden administration has already promised to do all it can to repeal them, and there is no way of knowing what future presidential administration may decide to do with Title IX.
Clemson's Sexual Misconduct Adjudication Procedures
Most sexual misconduct cases at Clemson are handled under Title IX. That law dictates a very clear set of procedures.
Once a complaint is made, the school determines whether to proceed with an investigation. If it does proceed, the Title IX Coordinator appoints an investigator to look into the event. The investigator interviews both parties and any relevant witnesses. They also collect any physical evidence such as clothing, videos, and text messages.
After the investigation, the Title IX Coordinator appoints an Administrative Hearing Board to hear the case. This board consists of a Chair who directs the proceedings and three additional members who determine the verdict and assign any sanctions.
Students may choose an advisor to help them with all aspects of the case, and this advisor may be an attorney. In addition to sitting in on any official interviews, the advisor questions witnesses and lodges any objections on their client's behalf.
It's worth noting that, under current Title IX rules, not every instance of sexual misconduct rises to the level of a Title IX offense. Like many schools, Clemson reserves the right to prosecute students whether the offense meets Title IX definitions of sexual misconduct or not. The school's justice process isn't nearly so straightforward as Title IX's. For one thing, it isn't clear just how your offense might be classified, and the school has several different procedures based on the nature of your violation. Most significantly, you may not be entitled to a hearing.
No matter how the case is decided, both sides do have the right to appeal. However, appeals can only be made for very specific reasons, such as new evidence or the demonstration of clear bias in the process.
An Uneven Playing Field
If you've watched enough TV, you may think you know how the justice system works. You imagine stoic judges, passionate prosecutors, and thoughtful jurors. Colleges and universities aren't bound by American judicial procedure, however. In fact, as a defendant, you can expect to be treated unfairly.
- The school isn't required to use the “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” standard you may know from Law and Order. Clemson uses the “preponderance of evidence” standard. In simplest terms, the hearing board can find you guilty if it believes the events are more likely than not to have occurred.
- The hearing board doesn't need to come to a unanimous verdict to convict you. A two-thirds majority is enough.
- Universities are under close scrutiny from the federal government. If the government suspects they aren't taking sexual discrimination seriously, a school can lose its funding. Schools are terrified of this possibility and go after defendants aggressively, often too aggressively.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento Understands Title IX
Why do you need an attorney if you've been accused of sexual misconduct?
You need an attorney because sexual misconduct cases are complex and can be challenging to win. Your school will do everything it can to find you responsible. They may try to suspend you before they even conduct an investigation. They may discontinue your email account, destroying crucial evidence. They may even tell you that you don't need an attorney.
Don't believe them. Your future is at stake. Schools talk about a range of penalties they might impose but make no mistake: if you've been accused of sexual misconduct, they will try to expel you, or suspend you at an absolute minimum in most instances. That suspension or expulsion may come with a transcript notation about your offense, a notation that could keep you from enrolling anywhere else.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento built his career on sexual misconduct cases. He knows Title IX, and he knows how university administrations operate. Joseph D. Lento has represented hundreds of students just like you across the United States. He'll make sure you get all the rights you're entitled to, and he'll fight for the very best possible resolution to your case.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct at Clemson University, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.