In every Title IX or student conduct matter, students have an opportunity to submit to an interview. Regardless of being a complainant or respondent (accused), the interview is a key opportunity to present facts in support of a charge or defense and to correct misstatements and misunderstandings that may have occurred in a case. No matter if a case involves sexual assault, hazing, cheating or even a violation of a drug or alcohol policy, cases can be won by a student providing a compelling interview.
Below are our favorite suggestions that we tell all of our clients when we prepare them for their interview.
1.) Know Your Truth.
We tell our clients, no one knows what happened (or didn’t happen) better than you do. After all, you were there. Don’t forget, when you stick with the truth, the story can be retold countless times. Tough questions can be answered with inconsistencies. Lies are hard to remember.
2.) Stay Organized.
We spend hours, and sometimes even days, helping our clients get organized for the interview. We ask our clients to prepare a timeline of events, assemble key pieces of evidence and have the names of witnesses on hand before the interview occurs. We don’t let our clients “wing” an interview.
3.) Practice Makes Perfect.
Some people can answer questions under pressure. Most students need practice. It’s not unusual to garble words, forget key facts or just freeze when being questioned – especially when a college hires an outside trained investigator to ask questions. We combat these nerves by conducting enough mock interviews that our clients are practically professionals on game day. Indeed, our hope is that we are tougher on our clients than the real investigator.
4.) Listen Up!
It sounds simple, but it’s not. We have all lost the art of listening. We counsel our clients to carefully listen to the question and then provide a response. We can’t tell you how many times we hear non-responsive answers that make our clients look like they are hiding something. It’s harder than it sounds: listen, think, then provide a response.
5.) No Rambling, Please.
Focus and answer the question. When someone rambles, it will lead a skilled investigator to ask more questions. Think of a stray thread on a sweater. One tug can lead to many other threads unraveling. Answer the question and nothing more.
6.) Don’t Play Coy with Words.
In sexual assault cases, don’t be afraid to talk about the details of sex. Investigators involved in Title IX matters have heard it all. So, talk straight and use real words that describe what actually happened. On the other hand, try to be somewhat professional and describe body parts properly. Say breasts, not boobs. Say oral sex, not something else. When referring to drug use, say smoked marijuana, snorted cocaine or some other simple description. Just say what happened.
7.) Don’t Protect Your Buddies.
This suggestion becomes critical in hazing and other cases that involve athletic teammates and Greek members. We know that friends hate to implicate other friends. However, rest assured that someone will call another person out during an interview. If a student lies to protect a friend, additional misconduct charges can be heaped on for trying to cover for a friend. While you don’t have to go out of your way to implicate a friend, a student should never lie during an investigation.
8.) Don’t Feel Pressure to Answer Every Question.
“I don’t know” is the answer in certain circumstances. We constantly tell clients that if they don’t know, then say so. Also, there might be times when we tell clients not to respond to a particular question if we feel that a response could be incriminating and provide evidence in a later criminal prosecution.
9.) Take a Break.
It’s okay to ask for a time out to confer with an advisor during an interview. It’s okay to ask for a moment to get water, use the bathroom or even take a walk. While we understand that students want to get the interview over, it’s more important to feel confident in the response and feel ready for each question. Breaks can be important for getting through a grueling interview.
10.) Don’t Go Too Far.
We have seen many interviews fall apart when a student goes too far. What does that mean? Going too far mean’s exaggerating the truth to make a point. For example, we have heard students say that “their social life has been ruined forever”, only to be snapped or photographed in a bar a few days after an event has occurred. Some will say that they were “completely sober” during the night and lose credibility when other students report seeing the person drink a few beers at the start of the evening. These responses typically don’t involve situations where a person is lying per se, but just engages in a bit of hyperbole. We often say that the most effective interviews occur when a witness is candid and exacting in responses.
Our skilled team of Title IX lawyers is well-versed in the laws, policies and disciplinary procedures surrounding Title IX cases and is here to help you build a strong defense. Don’t risk accidental self-incrimination or leave your fate to chance. For further assistance, please contact KJK’s Title IX attorneys, Susan Stone (SCS@kjk.com; 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (KWS@kjk.com; 216.736,7217).