How You Respond To The Disciplinary Process Matters

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When you're a college student facing allegations of sexual misconduct, you have an uphill battle ahead. The school disciplinary process doesn't afford the same protections as criminal court proceedings. Yet the consequences can be nearly as harsh. You may face suspension, expulsion, loss of financial aid and lasting damage to your reputation. What's more, you may still face a separate criminal investigation that could lead to criminal charges.

How you respond to allegations of misconduct at each and every stage of the process can make a BIG difference in your future.

Schools Have An Incentive To Take Swift Action Against You

To be compliant under Title IX law - and not risk their federal funding - schools must follow certain steps to prevent acts of sexual misconduct and to take disciplinary action against perpetrators of sexual violence.

To prevent sex discrimination violations, schools will not hesitate to take swift and decisive disciplinary action, even in the face of contrary evidence.

All it takes is a single one-night stand following an alcohol-soaked party for a student to face a Title IX investigation and likely disciplinary action.

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Do You Understand What To Expect?

Many students never experience an interaction with campus disciplinary procedures. It is common for an accused person in a sexual misconduct investigation to be facing their first interaction with campus investigations and hearings.

Every university has a dedicated Title IX policy. When an alleged victim chooses to file a complaint, the Dean of Students will likely become involved, and the school's Tile IX coordinator at the Office of Student Affairs may choose to begin a formal investigation.

The investigation, disciplinary hearings and appeals process can span months. In the interim, accused parties face massive invasions of privacy, lack of university support and potential retaliation for their alleged violations.

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Why You Should Call An Attorney Today

If someone accuses you of sexual harassment, sexual assault or another policy violation, you need to hire an attorney immediately. North Carolina law provides for your civil rights - including the right to hired counsel.

Hiring the right attorney is not only the best way to protect your rights, but your best shot at getting a favorable outcome. There is often a bias against the accused in these cases. An experienced attorney can level the playing field.

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The Benefits Of Hiring An Attorney

When many students think of hiring an attorney after sexual misconduct, they likely think about legal help for potential criminal charges. But you are also facing an uphill battle - and potentially life-altering consequences - in the school disciplinary system.

At Roberts Law Group, we can fight for you from the very start. We can help you by:

  • Asserting and protecting your rights from the very beginning of an investigation
  • Reviewing evidence and ensuring that evidence is not misrepresented
  • Preventing you from making statements that may damage your position, whether in disciplinary proceedings or in a criminal court later
  • Ensuring that school disciplinary officials don't exceed their authority
  • Representing you during the appeals processes, including identifying university missteps during hearings
  • Understanding how the initial investigation and disciplinary hearings may impact future criminal charges
  • Representing you in any criminal investigations or charges that follow

With multiple offices around the state, our lawyers represent accused students, staff and faculty members across North Carolina. We have a proven record of success and a hard-earned reputation for excellence.

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The Process In 5 Phases

While every university has slightly different policies, the process for most alleged sexual misconduct cases is, at its core, the same. When our attorneys review Title IX cases, they review the details and develop a strategy for each step of the disciplinary process. The student disciplinary process generally is broken down into five phases:

1. The Investigation

University staff members are under an obligation to file a report upon receiving a complaint or otherwise learning of a possible violation of the university code of conduct. Examples of reportable violations include:

  • Sexual harassment, including repeated unwelcome sexual advances
  • Sexual assault, regardless of whether the reporting party and/or alleged perpetrator were drinking
  • Intimate partner violence on campus
  • Sex-based or sexual orientation-based threats or assault

Also, universities have worked diligently to ensure that alleged victims of student code violations have the means to report the alleged violation. Students are now "strongly encouraged" to report incidents of misconduct. Upon receiving a complaint, an investigation process follows. The college or university will hire or appoint an investigator and interview witnesses, gather evidence and confront the accused student.

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2. Pre-Hearing Procedures

If the university officials find a reasonable basis to substantiate the reported violation, the accused will be notified, and a hearing date will be set. The accused will likely receive an investigative report prepared by the university investigator which summarizes the evidence against them.

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3. Disciplinary Hearing

At the hearing, the accused will be asked to admit, deny, or remain silent as to the alleged violation. Both the accused and the alleged victim may present facts and evidence, and both sides will argue their version of events.

Hearings can be recorded and are usually closed to the public. The hearing typically proceeds similar to a trial (opening arguments, evidence presentation, and closing), but rules of evidence do not apply, and the burden of proof is much lighter than in criminal proceedings. The college or university will often rely heavily upon investigators' findings. These findings may or may not be subjected to external review and validation.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the student disciplinary body will make a determination of the accused's guilt or innocence with regard to the alleged violation. The standard of proof necessary to find a violation is usually by a "preponderance of the evidence" (meaning it's more likely than not that the student broke the code). This is a substantially lower burden than in a criminal case, where the standard is "proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

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4. Sanction Phase

If the disciplinary board finds that a violation did occur, the panel must determine what the appropriate sanction or punishment will be for the offense. Much like sentencing in a criminal case, the university will afford the accused an opportunity to present mitigating evidence and argue for leniency. Because of the university setting, sanctions are meant to be "educational" not punitive. However, that doesn't mean they should be taken lightly. Sanctions can drastically impact your reputation, your employment and education opportunities, and your future.

The most serious sanction imposed for a violation is expulsion. Other sanctions include suspension, disciplinary probation, loss of scholarships, removal from sports teams or extracurricular activities, and a requirement to complete counseling or substance abuse treatment. Further, the university may defer the conference of a student's degree until the student complies with the conditions imposed upon him or her as sanctions.

Recently, some schools are examining policies that encourage restorative justice as a part of the resolution process. Restorative justice emphasizes "making things right" and may include writing letters of apology to the community, participating in further counseling and attending extensive in-person meetings with the reporting parties and alleged victims.

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5. Appeals

If a student is found responsible at a hearing, he or she may usually appeal to a higher hearing panel as set forth in a particular university's student conduct code. The disciplinary body or the Title IX coordinator should make appeals policies available to the accused at the end of a hearing. Accused parties involved in appeals procedures should hire an attorney who can properly analyze relevant evidence, the school's reporting and responding processes, and Title IX policies.

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You Don't Have The Same Rights As You Would In Criminal Proceedings

It is important to know that universities, by and through their respective Title IX compliance offices, have implemented rules that are far less favorable to the accused than what you would find in criminal court. Evidence that supports a finding of sexual misconduct in a university setting often falls well short of the evidence necessary to prove a criminal law violation.

However, serious allegations of sexual misconduct can result in referral to law enforcement agencies for criminal investigation. And police can use incriminating, voluntary statements made by a student when responding to a disciplinary code violation investigation against the student if the district attorney or law enforcement selects the case for prosecution.

This potential spillover between disciplinary hearings and criminal charges, particularly where the allegation is as serious as sexual misconduct, underscores the wisdom of allowing the accused representation at student code hearings.

You have the right to an attorney during disciplinary hearings - and it's one of the most important rights you have. With the stakes so high, don't make the mistake of trying to confront school disciplinary proceedings on your own.

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Protecting The Accused-How Universities Often Fail Students

When sensitive and inflammatory allegations arise in a campus setting, it's naïve to think the university community will reserve judgment until the completion of a fair and impartial process. It's far too easy for people to jump to conclusions in these situations. For the accused, that means the consequences often begin long before any formal determinations are made.

Students accused of sexual misconduct rarely gets the protections they deserve. All too often, universities fail to protect students under investigation. This can lead to unfair actions such as:

  • Discriminative grading
  • Isolation from social settings
  • Harassment and event assault
  • Permanent ruin to the accused's reputation

Title IX is an equal opportunity provision. The university staff, including investigating parties and the Title IX coordinator, should be treating you fairly throughout the process. You have rights equal to that of every other student. You deserve fair treatment and support. Our firm can act as your support and advocate when accusations lead to unfair treatment.

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Get Legal Help | FREE Consultation

Although students accused of inappropriate sexual conduct on college campuses are purported to have "rights" to a fair process under Title IX, the reality is that you're facing an uphill battle. Public sentiment nearly always favors the alleged victims in these cases, even when the allegations are flimsy or baseless.

If you've been accused of sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault or other forms of sexual misconduct and you're facing a Title IX investigation, contact Roberts Law Group for a FREE consultation. You can also call 866-630-2389.

North Carolina vs. O.S.
Charge: First Degree Forcible Rape and First Degree Kidnapping
Facing: 26 - 33 years in prison
Result: Dismissed

Case involved allegations of forcible rape at gun point. We were able to gather evidence to attack the accuser's credibility and discredit her story. The prosecution dismissed the charges.

Read more results