Our criminal justice system is founded on ideals such as “innocent until proven guilty,” checks and balances and requiring a high standard of proof by criminal prosecutors to prove guilt by “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” These standards are intended to prevent the conviction of innocent parties who are accused of serious crimes. Unfortunately, many lives are ruined when colleges and universities personally persecute and punish students before a fair hearing has been provided to the accused.
A recent true life example demonstrates the problems plaguing the unfair and inconsistent policies that are institutionalized in colleges and universities. A male freshman was accused of sexual assault by a girl who he was dating. The alleged victim brought her charges of sexual misconduct to campus authorities, and the male student was deemed “not responsible” after an initial hearing. The girl was not satisfied with the results and appealed the decision to an appeal board, which immediately suspended the male student. He battled it out and eventually won, with a federal judge ruling in his favor and ordering the university to allow him to re-enroll. However, this result only occurred after his reputation was ruined and his savings were depleted from making the legal challenge.
Extent of the Problem
Unfortunately, this student’s situation is not unique. There are many similar testimonials in which students describe lackluster investigations and student boards that quickly punish students because of false accusations. Students often do not know how to react when they are being accused of serious misconduct and denied due process. Some accused individuals choose to leave the school voluntarily after being ridiculed for misconduct they did not complete. Others have been expelled or suspended for a substantial period of time, all without the benefit of an actual trial. Still others suffer from serious mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or anxiety.
Inconsistent College Response
Schools across the country respond much differently to accusations of sexual misconduct. They often have wide discretion to determine how to handle these types of situations. Some schools follow practices that ostracize accused students before a hearing is held. Such “interim restrictions” may include not contacting the victim, not visiting other dormitories, not entering a student union or not eating in a dining hall. Others may call for the immediate suspension of accused students from organized sports, music groups, fraternities, sororities or clubs. Schools may require accused students to move out of shared living spaces and off campus.
However, many policies are based on a communication they received from the Obama Administration in 2011 which provided guidance and steps that schools would have to adhere to. The communication and further guidance by the former administration required the following:
- Adjudications involving allegations of sexual misconduct should use the lowest burden of proof, a preponderance of the evidence
- Restrictions on the accused to question the alleged victim
- The appointment of a single investigator to look into allegations
- The investigation of all reports of possible sexual misconduct, to include incidences in which the victim refused to cooperate or that were advanced by a third party
- Strengthening the definition of sexual harassment to include conduct not necessarily perceived as objectively unreasonable
- The retention of a public list of schools with possible Title IX violations
- The potential loss of federal funds from institutions that refused to comply with the new rules
Responding to College Investigations Based on False Claims
Although the new rules were borne out of a desire to protect female victims of sexual assault and to ensure that campuses took these crimes seriously, they may have contributed to encouraging bias against accused students. In many regards, the new rules are unjust to individuals accused of misconduct, punishing them quickly and severely before they have been adjudicated guilty.
To protect your reputation, it is important that you take immediate action if you are accused of sexual misconduct. You should insist on a fair hearing and due process before any of your rights on campus are restricted. You may only have a limited amount of time to request a hearing or to appeal an adverse decision, so it is important that you seek competent legal assistance immediately. Read more about sex in public charges in California.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer for Immediate Assistance
Liberty Bell Law Group is a leading Los Angeles criminal defense firm that defends against false claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment. In addition to helping you avoid any criminal prosecution based on false allegations, we can represent your interests in administrative hearings and other proceedings implemented by your college or university. We are committed to preventing young lives from being destroyed due to such vicious and untrue accusations. Contact us to speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer. We can discuss your legal options and design a legal strategy around the strengths of your case.