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Title IX cases (also referred to as Title Nine cases in this blog) are the school disciplinary proceedings that take place against a student accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment. These types of complaints are very common, particularly among college-age students. Federal Title IX law provides federal funding to universities for having programs to investigate and reprimand students who are accused of and found responsible for sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other types of criminal sexual misconduct. If your school has opened an investigation against you, there are several things that you need to know right away.

1. The Title nine process is very serious.

If a complaint has been made and an investigation will begin or may possibly begin, you need a lawyer. Things you can do now will make a critical difference in the end results. You should absolutely not underestimate the investigation or impact a Title IX case can have. Title IX cases can be devastating to a student’s future. Possible outcomes include expulsion, ending up with an academic record with a permanent mark, denial of a degree and/or the ability to graduate.  Even worse, other schools may consider the accused to be forever flagged and a liability to accept. This is particularly true when the nature of the complaint involves sexual claims against another student.

2. The process is different in every case.

Schools are responsible for having their own code of conduct, and these vary from school to school. Title nine cases always take longer than the school anticipates. Often, investigators will need extensions to complete the investigation process, interviews of witnesses, and the report that the fact finder ultimately relies on. Many times, the investigations are handled by untrained and very biased investigators. Because the burden of proof is less in a student misconduct case versus a criminal case, this can be a serious flaw with the process. Over the past few years, there has been constant ongoing litigation regarding Title nine issues. In federal courts across the country, aggrieved students have challenged various parts of the law and the processes. Because the law is always changing, it is critical to have a lawyer who can assert and preserve all of your possible rights. Even if the law is not favorable on a particular point, the law is changing so fast you need a lawyer who is on top of the latest developments.

One of the changes in the law, for example, is that is that respondents are now allowed to confront their accusers. This is important because many times, sexual allegations will come down to the word of a complainant alone. There is often no other evidence. No DNA, no eyewitnesses, and no physical evidence to support the claim. While many schools require the accused to question the alleged victim, we routinely help our clients prepare and strategize. Further, we are accustomed to acting as the advisor to our client in the process, which is many times all the school will allow. This is a very different role than lawyers are used to having and an important reason to find a lawyer with experience defending Title nine cases.

3. The possibility of criminal charges always must be seriously considered.

Having a lawyer who is skilled in both the criminal and Title IX context is critical. There is often a clear intersection between school investigations and criminal investigations. We have had clients who faced both – a criminal case and a Title IX case based on the same allegations. We have also seen cases where a school still went forward with the Title nine process even though criminal charges were dropped. Since the burden of proof in school disciplinary hearings is lower, it is easier for the school to put someone through the Title IX process. The problem comes when a student says the wrong thing or makes a misstep as they defend their position. This can reopen the door to criminal charges. In many cases, however, our clients do tell their side of the story and choose to defend themselves by making statements and giving testimony.  This is after extensive preparation and practice. In some circumstances, however, the facts of a case make it in the student’s best interest to remain silent.

Discuss Your Title IX Case with a Skilled Michigan Attorney

While Title Nine proceedings and allegations are certainly stressful to those who are accused, we have used many strategies to win these cases. We also know that the stress pours over onto the student’s parents and family. The strategy for each case always involves determining the proper timing, course of action, and determining the appropriate defense. Sometimes the best and fastest option is to find creative solutions and think outside the box. We have represented many clients who went on to complete their degree and graduate successfully. When we meet to discuss your case, we can talk through all of the angles you must keep in mind when determining the strategy.

We have handled cases involving many different schools including local high schools, Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Oakland University, Western Michigan University, and others. We have also represented clients in jurisdictions all over Michigan when there is a companion criminal case. Call our office to set up an in-person consultation a zoom consultation with our office.

Author Smith Lehman

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Smith Lehman, PC

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