When you learn that you are facing any kind of criminal charges related to a sex crime, or that you have been accused of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual assault, rape, or any other related offense, it can be difficult to understand what the possible consequences of the allegations could be and what you need to do in order to defend yourself. Particularly for students on college campuses, it can be difficult to understand the distinctions that exist between state and federal sex crimes, between state sex crimes and Title IX allegations, and among state sex offenses, federal sex crimes, and Title IX allegations.  Some of the terminology used in each of these contexts is similar, and the language of “sexual misconduct” used across college campuses can seem vague and broad. Accordingly, if you are facing a Title IX violation for alleged sexual misconduct, you might be wondering: am I facing criminal charges, and can a Title IX case result in criminal penalties or required registration on a sex offender registry?

The ways in which state and federal laws relate to one another, including Title IX, can be extremely complicated to understand, particularly when you are dealing with the immense anxiety of facing any kind of allegations or charges related to a sex offense.  Our knowledgeable and aggressive North Carolina sex crimes defense lawyers have experience working with college students in Title IX cases and defending clients who are facing sexual assault, sexual battery, and forcible rape charges.  Do not hesitate to get in touch with our firm to learn more about the potential defense strategies that may be available in your case.  In the meantime, we want to provide you with more information about sex offenses that typically arise on college campuses and the distinctions among state criminal law charges, federal criminal law charges, and Title IX investigations.

Can Sexual Assault Allegations Result in Proceedings Under Title IX and Under State Law?

If someone has accused you of sexual assault or another sex offense that might fall under your college or university’s definition of “sexual misconduct,” it is critical to understand you ultimately could be facing charges under North Carolina criminal law, in addition to a Title IX investigation at your college or university. Whether either type of investigation or proceeding will occur, depends upon the actions of the accuser. In many cases, a student accused of sexual assault will only be subject to Title IX proceedings.

When a person has accused you of sexual assault or another form of sexual misconduct at your college or university and has reported the alleged incident to an official at your school, his or her report will launch a Title IX investigation. Most higher education institutions require faculty and other officials at the school to be “mandatory reporters,” which means that they are required by the school—as their employer—to report allegations of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. Whether a student, a faculty member, or another party reports an alleged incident of sexual assault or sexual misconduct, the school will most likely open a Title IX investigation. But a Title IX investigation is not a criminal matter, as we will clarify below. In fact, a Title IX investigation occurs wholly within the bounds of the school as an internal matter and does not involve local law enforcement.

However, allegations of sexual assault or sexual misconduct can result in criminal charges if the alleged victim of the assault makes a report to the police. When a report is made, the police will typically launch an investigation that is completely separate from a Title IX investigation. You will only be arrested and charged if the police are able to obtain evidence that the county or state prosecutor believes is sufficient to prosecute you for the offense. Depending upon the specific facts of the allegations, you could face charges for one or more of the following under North Carolina criminal law:

  • Forcible rape (first-degree or second-degree);
  • Forcible sexual offense (first-degree or second-degree); and/or
  • Sexual battery.

Since Title IX is a Federal Law, Does a Violation Constitute a Federal Sex Crime?

While Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law, a violation of the law cannot result in criminal charges. However, it can result in a university investigation of a complaint of sexual misconduct.  There is a clear difference between the federal law of Title IX and federal sex crimes charges that can result in criminal penalties. Even if you are found “responsible” after a Title IX investigation at your college or university, which may result in a suspension or expulsion, you will not face state or federal penalties associated with a criminal conviction.

Are There Differences Between Sex Crimes Charges Brought Under State and Federal Law?

In situations where a college or university student is facing allegations that result in both a Title IX investigation and criminal charges, it can be difficult to understand if the university investigation under federal law (Title IX) also means that the related criminal charges can be federal offenses. There are clear distinctions between state and federal sex crimes, and nearly all sexual misconduct cases on college campuses that result in state criminal charges are not the type of offenses that can result in federal sex crimes charges.

Generally speaking, federal sex crimes do not include sexual assault, sexual battery, or related charges that often fall within the classification of “sexual misconduct.” Instead, nearly all federal sex crimes charges will involve one or more of the following:

  • Child pornography and computer sex crimes;
  • Child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse;
  • Human trafficking;
  • Kidnapping with the intention of committing a sex crime; and
  • Certain sex crimes result in a person’s death.

As you can see, these offenses are not typically the types of offenses at issue in university Title IX investigations or sexual misconduct allegations. In most college campus cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct, any sex crimes charges that are brought will be brought under state law. However, just because you are not facing federal charges, does not mean that you can handle your defense on your own. Even a conviction of a sex offense under North Carolina law can result in serious jail time. A conviction of a second-degree forcible sexual offense, for example, can result in up to 182 months (approximately 15 years) in prison, and a conviction of first-degree forcible sexual offense can result in life in prison without parole.

If I am Found Responsible for a Title IX Violation, Can I be required to register on the Sex Offender Registry?

No. Since Title IX investigations are not criminal matters, any “responsible” finding will not result in criminal penalties. As such, you cannot be required to register on a sex offender registry if you are found “responsible” after a Title IX hearing.

Can I Face Charges Later on if I am Found “Responsible” After a Title IX Investigation?

Since a Title IX investigation is not a criminal investigation but is an internal matter at your college or university, you do not have the same protections against double jeopardy under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that you would have if you were found “not guilty” after a criminal trial. As such, if you are found innocent or “not responsible” after a Title IX investigation and hearing, the complainant at your school (the person who made the allegation) may be able to appeal the finding and you could still face disciplinary consequences at your school upon appeal. Further, innocence in a Title IX investigation does not preclude criminal charges from being brought. It is certainly possible that you could face criminal charges under North Carolina law after being found not responsible in a Title IX case. You should also keep in mind that if you are facing both a Title IX complaint and state criminal charges, anything you say in the Title IX investigation may be used against you in the criminal case. Either way, you should immediately seek advice from a North Carolina criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Do I Need to Disclose a Title IX “Responsible” Finding?

The answer to this question depends upon who is asking you for information. If you are applying to transfer to another college or university, you may need to disclose a responsible finding from a Title IX investigation, including any sanctions. Applications to graduate or professional schools may also require disclosure, as can apply for certain professional licenses. In some cases, an employer may also require you to disclose Title IX findings and sanctions, and even if not, the information could appear on your transcript. As such, it is critical to have assistance from a Title IX defense lawyer when you are facing allegations so that you can avoid a “responsible” finding and any accompanying sanctions.

Will I Have a Publicly Searchable Record if I am Accused of Sexual Assault at My College or University?

The answer to this question will depend on a number of factors. First, it is critical to know whether you are facing criminal sexual assault charges under North Carolina law, sexual assault allegations under Title IX, or both.

If you are found “responsible” after a Title IX investigation, an individual or entity can potentially obtain that information from your university. Recently, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that public schools in North Carolina are required to release as public records certain disciplinary records of students who have been found responsible for violating the sexual assault policy of their college or university.  In DTH Media Corporation v. Folt, 374 N.C. 292 (2020), the Court held that UNC does not have the discretion to withhold this information—UNC Schools must comply with the North Carolina Public Records Act and allow access to the name of the student, the violation committed, and any sanction imposed on the student who violated the sexual assault policy. Therefore, if you are found responsible in a Title IX hearing and you attend a public university in North Carolina, such as the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill or the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, the university will be required to disclose your name, the violation you committed, as well as the sanctions imposed on you by the university to an individual or entity that inquires.

Additionally, in some limited cases, parties involved in or adjacent to the Title IX investigation will release information to the news media. Once information is released to the media, it may be difficult to stop the spread of the information if the information is factually true and therefore, not defamatory.

If you are sued civilly in connection with a Title IX investigation, the allegations will typically be accessible to the public. Similarly, if you are facing criminal sexual assault charges in North Carolina, the case information will be searchable to the public even if you are not convicted. Even details of a sexual assault arrest or sexual assault charges can be public records. If you are not convicted of criminal sexual assault charges—if the charges are dismissed or you are found not guilty—our experienced criminal defense attorneys can speak with you about a path toward expungement under North Carolina law. Expunction, or expunging a criminal record, prevents any kind of public access to the information. However, if you are convicted of a sexual assault crime, you will be ineligible for expunction and will indefinitely have a criminal record with a sexual assault conviction.

How Can a North Carolina Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Help With My Case?

Whether you are facing sexual assault charges under North Carolina law, federal sex crimes charges, or Title IX allegations, our experienced North Carolina sexual assault defense lawyers are here to assist you.  We have years of experience representing clients in a wide variety of criminal cases involving sex crimes at both the state and federal levels, and we regularly assist college students and their families when they are faced with allegations of sexual misconduct under Title IX. Contact The Marcilliat & Mills PLLC to learn more about the services we provide to college students and their families in North Carolina when it comes to defending against sexual assault criminal charges, Title IX sexual misconduct allegations, and other sex crimes in the state.