When sexual assault, or an accusation of sexual assault, occurs on a college or university campus, students are encouraged to bring it to the school's attention under a Title IX claim. This is the act that prevents discrimination, including sexual discrimination, in schools and acts as a recourse for students outside the scope of the criminal justice system.
Unfortunately, this can lead to some complicated overlap between both claims and procedures. This article will attempt to help clarify the confusion by addressing:
When deciding where and how to report a case of sexual assault or harassment that occurred in an educational institution, victims have two options: they can bring it to the school, or to the authorities, or both.
If they bring it to the school, it is filed as an accusation of a Title IX violation against discrimination; with the police, it is most likely a charge of rape, assault, or sexual harassment.
There are two main legal differences between the two procedures, which both the alleged victims and the alleged accused need to take into consideration.
The first is the standard of proof. For a criminal case, you will ultimately need to get 12 people to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is responsible. For a Title IX investigation, only the hearing officer or the hearing director, and sometimes the board at the school, are involved.
They are the only ones who will review the interviews, the physical evidence, and the documents. And thus that standard of proof is whatever is sufficient to convince them.
There is something scary about such a low standard. After all, if the hearing officer believes the accuser is 51% correct and the accused is only 49%, then they may find that the complainant has been sustained. In addition to the standard for proof, the consequences of a guilt finding in either process are dramatically different.
In a criminal case, if the accused is not able to mount a strong defense or get the case dropped, they could go to prison and become a registered sex offender for the rest of their life. For Title IX investigations, on the other hand, if the accused is a student, they will be expelled or placed on academic probation. If they are staff or faculty, they could be fired and terminated.
Thus, in criminal cases, the person’s freedom is at stake, and the standard of proof is high. For Title IX cases, the ability to stay in school or keep a job is at stake, but the standard of proof is substantially lower. Regardless of what you are accused of, if someone is accusing you of sexual assault or harassment, you should contact an experienced lawyer.
Educational institutions actually have an obligation to keep everything sealed and private during a Title IX accusation. They will not contact authorities and will not share any evidence, investigation results, or otherwise with the authorities, with one notable exception.
The only exception occurs if there is an open criminal case as well and the person accused, who will be the defendant, were to testify. The prosecutor can use statements that the accused has made in the Title IX investigation or interview to impeach them and challenge their timeline or their ability to recall what they have said.
If you are dealing with both a Title IX investigation and an open criminal case, then you have to be extremely careful about what you provide to Title IX, as it can come back to haunt you if you have to go to trial and testify.
While it can, in theory, be used against you later in court, almost all of the Title IX investigations are sealed. Schools will not provide the information to the police because the police department has to Mirandize (read them their rights) anyone, or at least the accused, before they can take a statement.
Ultimately, the choice of which authorities to involve is up to the person making the complaint. If the accuser has chosen not to contact the police department, then it will likely remain a Title IX claim and nothing more.
Knowing it will be a difficult road for the accuser as well, many do not want to do both. There are also the opposite cases, where an accuser will file criminal charges and feel no need to do a double investigation with Title IX.
Everything starts with the accuser making a decision to contact the school student conduct department (or whatever name or title exists at their university or high school) or the police department. If the school is contacted, then the school takes over with the next steps. But if they do not report it to the school, then the school will not do anything.
The same is true of the police department. Law enforcement will not come looking for you to give a statement unless the accused reported an instance of sexual misconduct to them. So it all starts with the accused; they get the choice of whether and how they want to pursue the claim.
While it is theoretically possible for the results of a Title IX investigation to impact the criminal case, it is far more often going to be the other way around. The Title IX case is usually suspended until the criminal case is resolved or because the accused cannot participate in it while under investigation. Since their biggest concern is the criminal investigation, they might draw conclusions without having to wait for the accused to be a participant.
After all, Title IX claims are a civil process. If you are accused, you are required to be interviewed. You need to tell the director or the investigator what you did or did not do in order for them to continue the process.
If you refuse to say anything, then they can say you are choosing not to participate. That means that their investigation will be based on just the accuser’s report and is therefore likely to be sustained. But if you are not saying anything because you do not want to have the statement be a part of the criminal case if you were to testify, then they cannot simply proceed until that is resolved.
It is always advisable to do so when facing both criminal and Title IX cases. That is just one example of the essential legal advice a criminal defense attorney can give to anyone accused under Title IX. For more information on Accusations Of Title IX Violations In California, an initial consultation is your next best step.