A new “Dear Colleague Letter” was released on September 22nd, 2017, which is making changes to the way that sexual misconduct allegations are handled on campuses throughout the country.
The New Letter
In the new letter, the Department of Education stated that it believed that under the previous letter, colleges were pressured to quickly resolve any complaints of sexual assault but as many have pointed out, in many cases this may have prevented those who were accused of due-process.
What Is Due Process?
Under the law, due process is the fundamental principle that in both criminal and civil cases, all legal procedures must be followed so that there is no unequal treatment for either party.
What many have noted under the former Letter is that schools were in such a rush to resolve the issue that they often pushed blame onto the accused student because under the law, if they don’t handle the accusations in a timely manner or at all, they risk losing their federal funding.
In addition to this, instead of innocent until proven guilty, Title IX cases use the preponderance of evidence which means that unlike normal criminal and civil cases where the defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the accuser must only prove that there is greater than 50% chance that the respondent did what they are being accused of.
Now, with the issuing of the new Letter, schools are no longer pressured to resolve the issue within 60 days and in fact have no set time limit. Instead, they are simply encouraged to reach a resolution in a timely manner with fairness to both sides.
In addition to this, the school must provide any accused student with written notice of the beginning of an investigation including details about the incident and provide them with enough time to gather evidence before they are interviewed. Previously, schools were able to conduct these initial interviews without even providing the person being accused of details regarding their alleged conduct.
When it comes time for a hearing, the school was previously able to limit the amount of evidence or witnesses provided by the respondent, a practice that is no longer allowed to take place.
While these changes will certainly give the student who has been accused more time to understand what is happening, what they have been accused of, and how the school will handle it, it doesn’t change the fact that these accusations are putting not only their school career on the line but also their professional career.
The Consequences Of Being Found Guilty
If a student who has been accused of rape, sexual harassment, or sexual assault are found guilty at the end of their school’s disciplinary process, they face having a permanent mark on their academic record and expulsion, which may prevent them from pursuing their chosen career.
This is why it is important to contact an attorney as soon as the written notice of the investigation has been received. Students are allowed to retain legal counsel and not only can an attorney stand by the student during the hearing but they can also collect evidence that will help to support the case.
Is The Hearing A Criminal Trial?
No. Criminal charges, if pursued, are completely separate from the school’s proceedings. In fact, even if criminal charges aren’t filed, the school can still move forward with their own disciplinary action.
We Support Parents Too
While it is true that our law firm is here to help students who have been accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or rape, it’s important to remember that this situation will impact the entire family. We know how horrible it is for parents to watch their child be accused of something terrible and not be able to do anything to help.
We are happy to answer all questions that the entire family has. Don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more about how we can help.