What Should I do if I am Falsely Accused of Sexual Assault on a College Campus?
Sexual assault allegations are taken seriously by both law enforcement and university administrators. The consequences for the accused are severe. Students accused of sexual assault face administrative punishments such as suspension and expulsion but more importantly the parallel criminal proceeding could result in a felony conviction, prison time, and placement on the sex-offender registry.
Unlike rape allegations off-campus, the educational institution may hold an administrative hearing, taking disciplinary action outside of a court of law.
1. Understanding Where the School Stands
Due to the heavy amount of media attention schools have been receiving in the past few years, administrators have been known to treat the accused as guilty with little due process. Any accused student should understand that the school is not there to protect the rights of the accused. While Title IX legislation may exist to protect all students from discrimination, some schools do not fairly extend those rights to the accused.
For this reason, criminal defense attorneys encourage students to proceed with caution. Students who are targets of Title IX investigations cannot assume the school will take their side. Unfortunately, sometimes schools discourage students from seeking legal counsel.
2. Gathering Evidence
In criminal cases prosecutors bear the burden of proving a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt. In courts, the criminal defendant bears no burden. Unfortunately, rather than proving the crime did occur, as a courtroom would, most school hearings go about the process backwards, asking for proof that the crime did not occur.
Documenting any phone calls, text messages, emails, or other contact you had with the accuser, including photos or videos may be helpful. Also identifying witnesses who can corroborate the accused version of the offense may be beneficial.
3. Contacting an Attorney
Unfortunately most people don’t think about doing this until it’s too late. A criminal defense attorney will know how to protect a student’s rights throughout the process. There is a lot that happens between the time of the initial accusation and a trial (or administrative hearing at the university). The sooner a criminal defense attorney gets involved, the more he or she can help.