When a student attends a college or university in North Carolina, the reality of facing sexual harassment or sexual offense allegations on campus can be anxiety-inducing and devastating. College students and their parents often do not understand the intricacies of Title IX investigations and hearings, and it can be difficult to understand what the distinctions are between allegations of a Title IX violation and criminal sex offense charges in the state. Yet even when students and their families do not fully understand the processes through which sexual assault complaints are investigated and how such allegations can result in both academic and criminal penalties, they do know that these kinds of allegations have the ability to devastate a college student’s future.

It is critical to seek advice from an experienced North Carolina sexual offense attorney if you or your child are facing any kind of sexual assault allegations in connection with an alleged act on or around your college campus. From Title IX allegations that can result in expulsion from the college or university to criminal charges that can result in a term of imprisonment in the event of a conviction, one of our aggressive North Carolina criminal defense lawyers are here to help. We assist college students and their families across the state with defense strategies for allegations of sexual assault on or off-campus.

Getting the Facts About Sexual Assault on College and University Campuses

In recent years, it might seem as though allegations of sexual assault or misconduct resulting in Title IX investigations and criminal charges have increased in North Carolina and across the country.  Indeed, as reports of college sexual assaults on campus and seemingly flawed Title IX investigation and hearing practices made national news, more stories followed. Back in 2015, Rolling Stone published an article about an alleged rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, resulting in a national outcry against the fraternity and Greek life culture on college campuses. While The New York Times reported that the magazine later settled a defamation lawsuit brought by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity for $1.65 million, the magazine story shifted the culture surrounding sexual assault allegations on college campuses and the ways in which the court of public opinion shapes assumptions about who commits and who is guilty of sexual assault and harassment.

Moreover, campus sexual assaults are more common than many people might expect. However, it is important to remember that false allegations are made against college students, and in many cases, the wrong student faces allegations for a sex offense committed by another person. The following are some statistics about campus sexual assault provided by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center:

  • While in college, approximately one out of every five women and one out of every 16 men will be sexually assaulted on campus;
  • As many as 90% of campus sexual assaults go unreported;
  • For women in college who make allegations of sexual assault, nine out of 10 knew the person accused of committing the assault;
  • Nearly 40% of women who are raped, on college campuses and otherwise, face this kind of violence when they are between the ages of 18 and 24;
  • About 30% of colleges and universities in the US, as of 2014, did not offer sexual assault training to students or law enforcement officers on campus;
  • As of 2014, approximately 70% of colleges and universities in the US did not have a formal policy for working with law enforcement officials after learning of an alleged assault; and
  • Alcohol consumption is common in a majority of sexual assault cases.

While sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct may be common on campuses, it is important to remember that students, faculty, and staff can face false allegations and can be falsely accused of an offense in a Title IX complaint or in a criminal process.

Criminal Charges Versus Allegations Under Title IX

When you have been accused of sexual assault, it is critical to know whether you are facing a Title IX complaint on your college campus or criminal charges under North Carolina law. In some cases, a college student can face a Title IX complaint and criminal charges under state law. The systems in which these cases are investigated and heard are extremely different and can result in very different penalties if you are found responsible for what you are accused of.

The Title IX complaint process in which a student can face allegations of sexual misconduct arises under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to take steps to prevent sex discrimination in higher education and to have procedures in place for investigating and hearing Title IX complaints concerning sexual misconduct on college campuses.  While Title IX is a federal law, a Title IX complaint does not mean that you are facing federal criminal charges (or criminal charges in any capacity). Rather, you will go through a disciplined process that has been developed by your particular college or university. It is important to know that while it may seem like a relief that you are not facing criminal charges, Title IX proceedings can similarly impact a student’s future.

Sexual assault charges under North Carolina law can result in criminal penalties for which the stakes are even higher since you can face consequences that can include a criminal record, required sex offender registration on the registry, and imprisonment.

Understanding North Carolina Sexual Assault Laws

If you are accused of sexual assault in North Carolina, you could be facing charges for one or more criminal offenses. The following are some of the different types of criminal charges you may face in response to allegations of sexual assault or misconduct on a college campus under North Carolina law:

  • First-degree forcible rape (§14-27.21), which is a Class B1 felony;
  • Second-degree forcible rape (§14-27.22), which is a Class C felony;
  • First-degree forcible sexual offense (§14-27.26), which is a Class B1 felony;
  • Second-degree forcible sexual offense (§14-27.27), which is a Class C felony; or
  • Sexual battery (§14-27.33), which is a Class A1 misdemeanor.

Penalties for a Sexual Assault Conviction 

Depending upon the type of criminal charges you are facing, the penalties can vary upon conviction. The following are possible penalties for conviction of forcible rape in the first or second degree, forcible sexual offense in the first or second degree, and sexual battery:

  • Class B1 felony: imprisonment of 144 months to life without parole;
  • Class C felony: imprisonment of 44 to 113 months;
  • Class A1 misdemeanor: 0ne to 150 days in jail.

Beyond these penalties, a conviction will also result in a criminal record, and you will have a “reportable conviction” that requires you to maintain registration on the North Carolina sex offender registry. Indeed, even sexual battery, which is a misdemeanor offense under North Carolina law, is still considered to be a sexually violent offense that is a “reportable conviction” requiring sex offender registration.

Potential Defenses to Criminal Sexual Assault Charges in North Carolina

Building a defense to criminal sex offense allegations will depend on the specific criminal charges you are facing, as well as the particular facts and circumstances of the case. In some scenarios, we may be able to gather evidence that shows a false report was made and that no sexual assault or act of sexual misconduct ever occurred. In other situations, it may be clear that the person reporting the alleged crime did not make a false report but rather falsely made allegations against you for one or more reasons  For example, cross-racial identification bias can often play a role in false allegations and wrongful convictions.

Potential defenses to the charges you are facing may include but are not limited to the following:

  • You have been falsely identified as the perpetrator of a sex crime, and you have an alibi that proves you could not have been in the place where the offense occurred at the time it happened;
  • DNA evidence proves that you were not the person who committed the offense in question; or
  • The accuser legally consented to the sexual act, and as such, no criminal offense occurred.

It is critical to developing a defense strategy with a North Carolina sex crimes attorney who can assess the specific facts surrounding the case and can determine the best defense to help you beat the charges you are facing.

Defending Against Allegations of a Title IX Violation

Campus-specific policies will determine the process of a Title IX investigation when you are facing allegations. It is critical to reaching out to an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. While you may be able to present similar defenses to those in a criminal case, you do not have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt—as you do to be convicted of a criminal offense in North Carolina—in order to face consequences.

To be sure, if the Title IX committee, which can be made up of faculty members, staff, and students at your university, determines that you are responsible of sexual misconduct, you can be subject to serious penalties within the university system that can have a devastating impact on your ability to complete your degree, attend graduate or professional school, and even be considered for certain positions upon graduation.  As such, you will need to work with your attorney to ensure that you gather evidence to defend against the allegations and make sure you do so in a manner that adheres to the specific process outlined by your college or university.

Recent Changes to Title IX Policies and Procedures

In August of 2020, Title IX policies and procedures were updated. Accused students now have the right to written notice of the allegations against them, the right to an “Advisor,” and the right to produce, examine, and challenge evidence. As a student’s “Advisor” our attorneys can represent you in the Title IX investigation and hearing. At the hearing, your “Advisor” is the only participant who may question witnesses in your defense; the accused is never allowed to personally ask questions of an accuser. Therefore, an attorney is essential in guiding your understanding of the process, presenting evidence on your behalf, questioning witnesses against you, and ensuring the best defense possible is presented.

Additionally, accused students must be offered an equal opportunity to appeal a school’s ruling. Our skilled attorneys can help you navigate the appeals process in the event the committee’s ruling is not in your favor.

Potential Consequences of a Title IX Finding of Guilt

If you are found responsible in your institution’s Title IX process, potential consequences can include:

  • Suspension from the college or university;
  • Expulsion from the college or university;
  • Loss of a scholarship; and/or
  • Withholding of degree from the college or university.

Facing Title IX Allegations and Criminal Charges

In some cases, a college or university student will face Title IX allegations and will need to go through a Title IX hearing at his or her institution in addition to facing criminal charges under North Carolina law.  Our experienced North Carolina sexual assault defense attorneys can represent you in both types of proceedings, and we will tailor our strategies based on the particular needs of your case.

When you are facing two different types of cases—one within your university as a Title IX violation and the other within the criminal justice system—it will be important to consider the order in which the cases will be heard. Generally speaking, Title IX investigations and hearings tend to occur more quickly than criminal cases, so it is critical to contact a defense attorney as soon as possible.

Contact Our North Carolina Sexual Assault Defense Lawyers Today for Assistance

Sexual assault allegations can result in various kinds of allegations and criminal charges depending upon the specific facts of the case. No matter what, it is essential to have an experienced and aggressive North Carolina sex assault defense attorney on your side. Our criminal defense lawyers have years of experience defending clients in a variety of cases, from Title IX sexual harassment cases to forcible rape and other sex offenses under North Carolina law. Do not hesitate to get in touch with our firm to learn more about how we can assist you. Contact The Marcilliat & Mills PLLC to learn more about how our firm can tailor a defense strategy to the particular facts of your case.