Understanding The Burden Of Proof For Sexual Misconduct Under Title IX (And Why It Matters)

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that has a big impact on colleges and universities across the country. While one key purpose of Title IX is to prevent sex discrimination in higher education, it also has sweeping implications concerning how schools handle allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct. Every college that accepts federal funding - whether public or private - must comply with Title IX.

When allegations of sexual misconduct arise in college settings, schools must follow Title IX-compliant policies for investigating the allegations and pursuing the student discipline process.

You Don't Have The Same Rights In Title IX Proceedings

When you're facing serious accusations of sexual misconduct, whether on campus or off, you should expect to have certain civil rights - especially if you're facing serious consequences. The reality, though, is that you have far fewer rights in Title IX proceedings than you would in the criminal justice system. The burden of proof is much lower - meaning it will be much easier for school officials to find against you and impose harsh sanctions.

Those facing criminal charges for alleged sex offenses have a whole slew of rights. They have the right to an attorney, even if they can't afford one. They have constitutional rights that limit the power and reach of the government. They have the right a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

The time-honored burden of proof in criminal law has always been "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" - which means that a jury can only find the accused guilty if there is no reasonable doubt with regard to the elements of the crime charged. This standard places a high demand on the prosecution to present compelling evidence. It's also a strong protection for defendants who have much at stake.

Preponderance Of The Evidence

Allegations of sexual misconduct through Title IX, however, are handled very differently. You don't have the same rights. Evidence that would get thrown out of criminal court could still be used against you. The constitutional limits placed on the government in criminal proceedings don't apply here, because it's not the government acting against you - it's the school. And there's no burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Instead, the lower burden of "preponderance of the evidence" typically applies. This means school officials only need to find that it's slightly more likely than not - 51 percent versus 49 percent - that your conduct violated school policies. The evidence doesn't need to be terribly convincing. Taken cumulatively, if it tips the scales slightly in the accuser's favor, the school administration can impose harsh sanctions that tarnish your reputation and jeopardize your education.

The preponderance of the evidence standard is the lowest burden of proof available to a trier of fact, be it a judge, jury, or school administration.

Clear And Convincing Evidence

Under current interim guidance by the Department of Education, schools may choose to use the "clear and convincing evidence" burden of proof instead of "preponderance of the evidence." And if schools use the "clear and convincing evidence" standard in other matters of student misconduct, they must apply that same standard in sexual misconduct proceedings.

This standard is higher than "preponderance of the evidence." The evidence must make it substantially more likely than not that the accused committed sexual misconduct. However, the burden of proof isn't as high as "beyond a reasonable doubt."

In most cases, colleges and universities are still applying the "preponderance of the evidence" burden of proof - which means you're facing an uphill battle.

The Harsh Reality: The Scales Are Stacked Against You

Now more than ever, sexual assault on college campuses has taken a front seat in the public dialogue. The #metoo movement has brought a renewed focus on holding alleged perpetrators accountable.

While the desire to prevent sexual violence is certainly laudable, the downside is that fairness, due process and the rights of the accused often fall by the wayside. Many are quick to rush to judgment and side with the accuser, even if the complaint is without basis. Indeed, a "mob mentality" often arises, demanding accountability even when the allegations turn out to be flimsy, false or exaggerated.

Private Administration Of Serious Accusations

Ordinarily, citizens accused of serious crimes (like sexual assault) will be charged by the state with a misdemeanor or felony offense. The burden of proof will be guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor will be required to gather sufficient evidence proving guilt in a public court of law.

In Title IX cases, however, the school administration - through the Title IX Coordinator - is responsible for investigating accusations of sexual assault, sexual harassment or other violations of the student code of conduct. It is also responsible for taking disciplinary action against the person accused.

Title IX enforcement does not take place in a court of law, but privately, and given the lower burden of proof, the potential for railroading the accused student's rights is enormous.

In serious cases, law enforcement may also open a separate investigation, leading to criminal charges. How you handle the school disciplinary proceedings - including any statements or admissions you make - could potentially be used against you in criminal court.

What This Means For You

Sexual misconduct cases on college campuses are rarely black-and-white. They often involve drinking or drug use. Memories often get clouded along with judgment. Often, when there are no direct witnesses, it boils down to who's more believable. That means the smallest factor - such as how sincere you seem or what details you remember - can sway the outcome against you.

Your Most Important Right

Even though the scales aren't weighted in your favor when it comes to Title IX sexual misconduct proceedings, you do have one critical right: the right to have an attorney represent you. Given what's at stake, you shouldn't hesitate to exercise this right - and to do so as soon as possible.

We'll Stand Up For You

At Roberts Law Group, we can defend you against even the most serious of sexual misconduct allegations. Our defense lawyers have decades of collective experience. We've won favorable outcomes in even the toughest of sex offense cases.* And with convenient offices across the state, we represent students in proceedings involving any North Carolina public or private schools.

Call For Your Free Consultation

If you're facing accusations of sexual misconduct, dial 866-630-2389 for a free consultation.

*Each case is different and must be evaluated on its individual facts. We work hard to assess each case individually. Prior results do not guarantee any future outcome.

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