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Your Rights As A Student If You Are Accused of Sexual Misconduct At A University

Given the sexual assault policies in effect on college campuses in Illinois, students need to be aware that even the mere accusation of sexual misconduct can instantly throw their lives into turmoil and put their diploma at risk - even if the accusation is unfounded or ultimately proven false.

  1. YOUR RIGHTS IF YOU FACE DISCIPLINARY ACTION

In any case involving suspension or expulsion for disciplinary reasons - as opposed to academic reasons - at a public university, you are entitled to at least the following protections:
* The right to have your case heard under regular procedures used for all similar cases
* The right to receive notice of the charges against you
* The right to hear a description of the university's evidence against you
* The right to present your side of the story to an impartial hearing officer

You are entitled to the rights listed above in all cases involving disciplinary suspension or expulsion. You may also be entitled to other rights, such as the right to have a lawyer present during your hearing. You may also have the right to review written records related to the charges before the hearing is conducted.

  1. HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR DISCIPLINARY CASE

One of the most important steps to take is to thoroughly familiarize yourself with your university's procedures as soon as possible. These rules can be found in your university's student code of conduct handbook. It is imperative to know the following before the process begins:
* How you will be notified if you are charged
* How long you will have to prepare your defense
* What opportunity will you have to present your defense

  1. HOW TO CONDUCT AN INVESTIGATION FOR YOUR DEFENSE

If you are involved in any incident that you believe might lead to a complaint against you, immediately start to gather and preserve relevant information. Relevant evidence includes, but is not limited to the following:
* Text messages between you and the complaining party
* Text messages that are relevant from friends or acquaintances
* Statements from witnesses

Statements can be obtained by interviewing witnesses; however, it may be wise to employ the services of an attorney or professional investigator to avoid claims of witness tampering at a later date.

  1. DECIDING ON WHETHER TO RETAIN AN ATTORNEY

An often asked question is whether the individual should retain the services of an attorney. The answer to this depends on the circumstances. If you believe that you may face criminal charges for the conduct which has led to the university disciplinary proceeding, then it is absolutely imperative to hire an experienced attorney in this area of the law. Anything that you say to the university's employees can be used against you in criminal court. Immediately consult an attorney before making any statements whatsoever.

Even if you do not believe that criminal charges will stem from the conduct, having a competent attorney certainly cannot hurt you. This process is a complex one and having a knowledgeable attorney to guide you through the process is of great value.

  1. THE FOUR MOST CRUCIAL STEPS TO DEFENDING YOURSELF

The following are steps that should be taken when faced with a disciplinary charge:
* Carefully review your student handbook, disciplinary code, and other campus policies that apply to your situation.
* Take careful notes of conversations. Send emails that restate the conversations that you have had about the incident. Keep copies of all written correspondence that the university has sent you in regard to the matter.
* Obtain an attorney or at least an advisor who can help you navigate the process.
* Make your disciplinary hearing your top priority and prepare for it well in advance of the hearing.