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Guarding Against Allegations of Sexual Assault on Campus

For many college students, weekend parties are an unofficial but legitimate part of the college experience. When alcohol is readily available and consumed in excess, the potential exists for some students to engage in acts that can have serious consequences. Alleged sexual misconduct on campus has attracted a great deal of media attention in recent years, and when actual assaults are committed, it’s important that justice is done. But with increased awareness comes an increase in false allegations, and those who are unfairly charged deserve the same protections under the law that their accusers have. Those protections, unfortunately, are not as easily realized on campus as they might be elsewhere.

Any time a sexual assault or sexual misconduct charge is made on a college or university campus, the school must conduct an “adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation” of the complaint under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity that is federally funded.  Unfortunately, Title IX can be used to deny an accused student of their due process rights under the Constitution. In the case of a sexual assault charge, the school investigation can be performed without thoroughly questioning the accused or cross-examining the student who filed the complaint.

In a Marshall University case, student Joseph Hardin was accused by a female student of sexually assaulting her in a campus dorm room. The school conducted its investigation as required by Title IX and absolved Hardin of the alleged sexual assault. The case went largely unnoticed until some students, activists, businesses, and supporters of the accuser launched a social media campaign that quickly went viral and led to Hardin being indicted on a second-degree sexual assault charge. The prosecution claimed he had forcefully pinned the alleged victim down on the bed with his own body.

Under the criminal prosecution, unlike the school’s Title IX investigation, Hardin’s due process rights, including the right to a lawyer, were ensured, and he chose to enter a “Kennedy plea,” which did not require him to admit any guilt or explain what happened. He agreed to plead to misdemeanor battery, a much less serious charge than sexual assault, and received three years’ probation in exchange for his plea.

In many court cases, there isn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused person is guilty of a felony. When campus sexual assault cases are dismissed by a Title IX procedure, however, the accuser still has the option to file a report with the police, so students accused of sexual assault or misconduct need experienced representation from the start. In West Virginia, there is no statute of limitations covering sexual assault, so a plaintiff can wait years — even decades — until deciding to file a report and press charges.

If you have been accused of sexual assault on campus and you are concerned that your due process rights are being denied, it is essential you seek the advice and counsel of a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in these matters. The Giatras Law Firm, PLLC is prepared to provide the defense you deserve. Call us or contact our Charleston office online to schedule a free consultation.