The Duffy Law Blog

Articles of Interest for Criminal Defense Attorneys and Their Clients, College Students and Their Parents, Athletes, and Title IX Advocates

False Accusations Under Title IX

Title IX is a federal statute that requires educational institutions that receive federal funding to ensure that sexual harassment and sexual violence do not interfere with their students’ education and well-being. Although enacted with the intention of protecting students, faculty members, and staff on campuses across the country, Title IX does not always operate that way. This has proven especially true for those who are wrongfully accused of harassment or sexual violence, as these individuals are required to undergo a review process without the benefit of the protections offered by the criminal justice system.

Sanctions imposed for sexual harassment could be severe and include everything from academic probation to expulsion, both of which could affect a person’s ability to transfer to a different school, get into a graduate program, or secure employment. To ensure that you are not penalized for an act that you did not commit or for help countering a false accusation under Title IX, please contact a Title IX lawyer who can help you begin building a defense.

What Kind of Evidence is Admissible in a Title IX Investigation?

False accusations of sexual harassment and sexual violence on campus occur at an alarming rate across the country. These allegations, even when proven to be false, can have devastating consequences for those who are unfairly and wrongfully accused of harassment or assault. It’s also important to note that current Title IX complaint review processes have a much lower standard of proof than the criminal justice system, while those who are accused of offenses also lack other legal protections offered to criminal defendants.

Ultimately, a school’s investigative process for determining whether sexual assault or harassment occurred on campus is left largely up to the school itself. There are, however, some general aspects of the Title IX complaint review process that mimic those of the criminal justice system. For instance, investigations into claims of sexual harassment or assault should involve certain steps during the investigation process, including:

  • Interviewing the accuser and the accused about the allegations;
  • Questioning witnesses who may have seen the incident;
  • Reviewing law enforcement investigation documents;
  • Reviewing the accused’s discipline record; and
  • Collecting evidence related to the allegations, including documents, emails, images, and texts.

Last year, a host of new Title IX regulations were proposed and are expected to go into effect before the end of the year. Although they have yet to be published, the proposed regulations, if left unchanged, would permit schools to allow in-person cross examinations of students who report assault and harassment, as well as accused students.

Can Rumors or Hearsay be Used in a Title IX Investigation?

Because Title IX proceedings do not fall under the purview of the state or federal criminal courts, universities are not required to comply with the federal rules of evidence. Instead, educational institutions are only required to abide by general guidelines. For this reason, evidence that would normally be kept out of court, such as hearsay or rumors, could be used against someone accused of harassment or assault during a university review. This does not mean that an investigator will automatically assume the truth of any statements provided by the parties themselves or any witnesses asked to testify. Instead, the university will be tasked with using its own judgment to determine whether a witness’s statements are true or false.

Can a Witness in Title IX Investigation be Charged with Perjury for Lying?

As stated previously, universities are not required to abide by any specific rules of evidence when investigating allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence. Unfortunately, this means that a person who lies or provides false information during an investigation does not face the same penalties that he or she would as a witness in criminal court. For example, a student who lies during an investigation cannot be found guilty of perjury unless the case officially goes to court and the student lies in court. A person could be brought up on charges, however, of lying to police officers or impeding a criminal investigation if the accusations are accompanied by an official criminal complaint.

It is also true, however, that most universities have their own policies when it comes to dishonesty. For instance, some educational institutions can take disciplinary measures against witnesses who provide false information or testimony during an investigation. These penalties vary depending on the school code of conduct in question, but could include suspension or even expulsion. In many cases, facing these penalties is enough to deter a student from lying during an investigation into harassment or assault.

Can I be Found Responsible Even if There is No Solid Proof?

Universities are required to use a certain standard of proof when investigating allegations of sexual harassment. Under the current regulations an institution could decide to use a clear and convincing standard, which requires complainants to prove the accused’s fault with clear and convincing evidence. But most universitiesuse the much less strict preponderance of the evidence standard, which only demands that the accuser prove that it is more likely than not that the accused is guilty of the offense. Under this standard, if an investigator believes the complainant over the accused when there are no other witnesses, this is sufficient to meet the preponderance standard and find the accused guilty.

Which of these standards is used by a university can have a significant impact on whether or not a person is found guilty of sexual harassment. Although recently proposed regulations would amend Title IX to require colleges to apply greater protections for the accused student [not accurate I believe it is both preponderance and clear and convincing], whether these regulations will be finalized still remains to be seen.

Contact Our Office by Phone or Online Message

If you have been falsely accused of sexual harassment or sexual violence on campus, you could benefit from the advice of an experienced attorney who can represent your interests. To learn more about how a Title IX false accusation lawyer could help with your own defense, please contact Duffy Law, LLC today. We can be reached at (203) 935-8835 or by sending a message to inquiry@duffylawct.com. We also make ourselves available to our clients on a 24/7 basis, so please don’t hesitate to call or contact us online with your questions and concerns.

Felice Duffy

Attorney Felice Duffy

Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.
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