Many Title IX Officers Trample Students’ Due Process, Other Constitutional Rights
This is a terrifying yet very real case study in how easily universities and other schools use Title IX to abuse the Constitutional rights of students accused of sexual misconduct including denying due process, the right to confront and question an accuser, and the right against self-incrimination.
When former Houston Texan football player Keith Murphy was a student at Michigan State University, a female student he knew accused him of sexually assaulting her. Under Title IX the school was required to investigate or risk losing federal funds. Operating (initially) without an attorney, Murphy voluntarily provided text message evidence of a mutual hook-up and a DNA sample, and investigators conducted interviews but the woman did not return any of their phone calls. Prosecutors declined to press charges.
Title IX Charges Brought After Student Vindicated in Criminal Investigation
The school’s Title IX office also studied the case. It reviewed the evidence, interviewed friends of each party and talked to the nurse who supervised an examination of the woman. Murphy himself was not allowed to ask any questions of the woman accusing him. Even still, the school cleared him of wrongdoing.
But for Murphy, the story does not end there, or happily, as would happen for anyone else cleared of criminal charges as The New York Times reported recently. Under MSU’s Title IX rules, the woman was allowed to appeal the decision, unlike in criminal court where someone found innocent cannot be retried. By this time, Murphy has graduated and was playing professional football in Texas. He did not receive an email the school sent informing him the case wa being reopened because he no longer used the mailbox.
On the third try, Michigan State’s Title IX office panel found him responsible (i.e. guilty) of relationship violence and sexual misconduct. When the Detroit Free Press ran a story, the Texans released him from his contract. Murphy returned to the small town in Georgia where his mother lives, despondent, dejected and essentially labelled a sex offender without having had an opportunity to defend himself. He now has an excellent and well-regarded Title IX lawyer who is working to vindicate Keith through the legal system.
Backlash Brewing Against Title IX “Railraod Proceedings”
Fortunately, backlash is starting to build against the way colleges and universities handle Title IX complaints. Vocal objections are being raised by parents, professors, and lawyers throughout the political spectrum.
For instance, when Harvard University rolled out a revised Title IX policy, it was so onerous that 28 members of its law school faculty signed an open letter to The Boston Globe denouncing the school for abandoning not just due process but violating “the finest (fairness) traditions of Harvard University.” The letter accused the school’s leadership of catering to what it perceived was the desire of bureaucrats in the Dept. of Education.
Likewise, when a faculty committee at Stanford University unveiled a planned toughening of its Title IX investigation and hearing process, there was such an uproar over the draft rules that a second committee was struck to rethink and revise the policy.
For students or their parents, when a school serves notice that a Title IX complaint has been filed the first thing they must do without delay is retain a lawyer. If it is an attorney like me who handles Title IX cases around the United States, they will understand what an investigator and officials may and may not do, and stop them if they cross a line. A lawyer will also ensure that due process is followed throughout the investigation and hearing process.
In some instances, the attorney may be able to block or limit an inquiry by obtaining a court order. And especially if a student is exonerated or it turns out they were falsely accused, a lawyer may be able to obtain damages for them for having to endure the trauma of a needless sex-related investigation.
As we’ve noted in previous Title IX blogs here and here, being found responsible for a sexual incident can destroy a student’s entire future. They’re likely to be denied admission to graduate school, they may have trouble finding a job in their chosen field and, eventually, people will find out and think of them as a rapist.
Just as everyone needs an attorney when facing criminal charges, students need a lawyer if confronting Title IX allegation of sexual misconduct.
Jesse Binnall has represented students in Title IX proceedings at schools around the country. Reach him by phone at 703.888.1943 or by email at JBinnall@harveybinnall.com.