Over the last twenty-five years, I've represented many students who have been charged with sex-related offenses, either occurring on-campus or off-campus.
These cases are particularly troubling because if you are convicted of a sex-related offense, in addition to all the penalties that come along with it at the criminal level, it can cause you to be kicked out of your school and cause you problems getting into another school and can affect your future because of the conviction and the ramifications that come along with sex offense cases.
And I tell you, I've seen many of these cases are more than meets the eye. Sometimes there is alcohol involved, and the party accused of a sex offense didn't do anything wrong and is being charged for various reasons that are dissociated with criminal conduct.
For example, two individuals often get drunk at a party. Maybe they know each other; perhaps they don't know each other. One thing will lead to another; they'll end up in a room together, they'll be kissing, and then something sexual will happen, and then the other party wakes up and somehow thinks something wrong has happened to them.
Either they have a boyfriend, and now they feel guilty, or they can't remember what happened because they drank so much. That doesn't necessarily mean that anything inappropriate happened from a criminal context.
What it boils down to is consent. Suppose somebody consented, or it appeared they granted based on their acts and the circumstances surrounding the meeting between the two parties. In that case, that's not a criminal case, and it shouldn't be charged criminally.
In addition to looking at criminal charges, the person often looks at expulsion from school based on allegations that aren't fair under the circumstances.
I mean, that's really where you have to get an attorney who has done these cases before so they can best advise you on how to deal with both the criminal aspect of it – dealing with the police, the criminal case – and also what you should do and say when it relates to your school and defending yourself there and trying to avoid being expelled from school and all the other potential ramifications that come along with that.
What Should I Do If I've Been Accused Of A Sex Offense On Campus?
If you've been accused of a sex crime on campus or anywhere else, you first should seek the advice of an attorney. You may need to go to your parents if you're a student. Often, it's not a good idea to make a statement to the authorities. Other times, it is a good idea. It depends on the circumstances of your case.
That's why an attorney must guide you to make the right decisions from the beginning of your case.
You've got significant concerns when you have this case on campus. What will the campus do to you? Will you lose your tenure at the school? Will you be expelled? What if the authorities get involved? You can be arrested and face serious charges that could affect your future.
Your first move should be to get an attorney. Be honest with your attorney and tell them what happened. Then, that attorney will be tasked with successfully guiding you through the process and helping you make the right decisions.
How Does Off-Campus Differ From An Offense Committed On Campus?
If you're being charged with a sexual offense on or off-campus, you will want to be concerned that the police will get involved. You want to get an attorney right away. Let them know what happened and start to make the right moves from the beginning.
If the crime did not occur on campus, you have a much stronger argument that the school should not be able to discipline you. If it happens on campus, the school is entitled to get involved.
In addition to dealing with the police, you may have to deal with a school hearing, where they can suspend you and issue orders that you're not allowed to come within 100 yards of the alleged victim. A restraining order can be involved. It is imperative to speak to an attorney and make sure that you make the right moves at the beginning of the case and all through.
Does The Complaint Remain Confidential?
The alleged victim of an on-campus sex-related offense can request that their name remain confidential. That puts the school in a difficult position because the offender also has rights. How can the offender address the crime if the school refuses to give them the identity of the complaining witness?
Often, the person's identity can remain anonymous, and based on the circumstances of the case, the person being accused will be able to figure out who's blaming them.
The accuser's right to remain anonymous is up against the defendant's right to be able to confront their accuser and defend themselves against serious allegations that could hamper their school career, their criminal record, their reputation, and their freedom.
Will I Be Suspended If Accused Of A Sex Offense On Or Off-Campus?
Campuses have some decisions when a sex offense is brought to their attention. If the crime is severe enough, they can suspend you from being on campus while investigating. They can issue an order that you did not come within a hundred yards of the alleged victim while they're investigating the allegations.
They can also have the alleged victim go and get a restraining order, which can cause a problem because the judge has the authority to order you not to go on campus. That is something you're going to want to defend. Otherwise, you could be blocked from attending your classes.
You want to make sure that you're ready to defend yourself to try to maintain your status at school and not be in a position where you're banned from going onto the campus where you're trying to graduate. You have rights. Advocate your rights by hiring an attorney to represent you.
Will Alcohol Or Drug Use Impact The Outcome Of A Case?
A lot of sex crimes stem from alcohol. If you or the alleged victim were drinking alcohol, this could be a defense or an issue with your case. It could be a defense because alleged victims often can't remember what happened and do things they wouldn't normally do during a night of drinking.
When they wake up in the morning, they're suddenly claiming that their encounter was not consensual. On the other hand, if someone gets intoxicated to the point where they're almost unconscious, and the allegations are that you took advantage of that unconscious person sexually, that puts you in a bad situation.
Rape by touching an unconscious person is a severe offense and can result in prison time, registering as a sex offender, and a whole host of other problems. Alcohol plays a role in sex crimes, and you must get an attorney and let the attorney know what happened and how alcohol was involved. Be honest about it, so the attorney can adequately defend you.
Should I Hire A Sex Crimes Attorney?
Whether an attorney can represent you on campus depends on the college's procedures. I've described several clients on their college campuses, and some allow attorneys to be present, but they can't speak.
This is certainly better than not having anyone there if you're not familiar with procedures, how to ask questions, and the correct arguments to make. In most schools, if there's going to be a hearing related to a sex offense, they're going to let you have an attorney.
You also may be put in a position where you're going to be criminally charged, and anything you say to the investigators at school could be used against you in a criminal case. Make sure the attorney who will defend you in a criminal case is up to speed as to what is going on in the school investigation and is guiding you through that process.
What are Some Defenses when it Comes to Student-Related Sex Allegations?
Well, one defense is consent. If somebody agrees or consents to the subject activity, that's not a crime. That's a factual scenario as to whether or not somebody decided on a particular activity.
So, there's no cookie-cutter approach to this. You've got to look at the facts and circumstances surrounding what happened, why you believe that charges were filed against you, and whether the person had some improper motive or bias against you, and this is where you get your list of questions together. You get all the details the best you can remember, sit down with your criminal defense attorney, and give them all the details.
Don't omit anything or put a spin on anything. Tell them the truth so they can best help you in formulating either a plan to defend you completely or a plan for damage control so that you can preserve some of your valuable rights, like your reputation, your freedom, your future, your record, and all the things that are going to be important to you moving forward.
So, some of the available defenses spin on the facts of the case. You may have witnesses who saw things inconsistent with what the alleged victim is now saying.
You may have some other physical evidence inconsistent with what the alleged victim is now saying. There are all sorts of things that can be done to defend you, but your best strategy is to have somebody on your side who has done these types of cases before, and once they hear your version of events, they can guide you through what is a complex system at times.
So, what I have people do, you come into the office, we sit down under the cloak of the attorney-client privilege, and then that person gives me all the details of what happened. Then I let them know what they're facing, what type of strategy we should have, what they can do to help, and what I'm going to do to help them.
And then we're both moving forward on the same page in the direction that will be the best for that particular person, under those specific circumstances. So, if you're charged with a sex-related offense, and you're a student on a college campus, a high school campus, or any school setting, these cases are complicated to deal with.
Another problem is that the authorities sometimes are not that sophisticated – campus police and administrators – don't know what to do in these cases. Often, they jump to conclusions and don't handle things reasonably.
So, getting your version of events across in the most professional way is an essential strategy – and you will want to do that with the guidance of a trained, seasoned criminal defense attorney.