This university implemented a new sexual misconduct policy in October, which now provides special procedures on how sexual misconduct complaints are handled, investigated and resolved. As someone who has read the document in its entirety, I was appalled to find blatant violations of due process, the Bill of Rights and fair judicial procedures, which now will be used to determine life-altering sanctions on an accused student.
Students who support the Office of Student Misconduct and the Title IX office for their arduous work to combat the problem of sexual violence should be shocked to find that this “system” is not radically different than the judicial proceedings practiced in totalitarian governments. The university-implemented judicial system has also disregarded certain rules embedded in the Constitution meant to protect citizens faced with grave accusations for the sake of “taking action.”
Perhaps the most questionable practice of these judicial proceedings is that the determination of guilt can be reached through a “preponderance of evidence,” meaning “it is more likely than not [sexual misconduct] occurred,” as cited multiple times in the document.
Think about the implications of this for a moment.
The assumption of innocence, a basic right of the accused that is integral in any fair trial, no longer applies on this campus when one is reviewed for sexual misconduct, an offense punishable by expulsion. In many cases, the accused cannot cross-examine witnesses, scrutinize evidence or have any form of communication with the accuser or anyone else in his or her party. One can imagine how these practices can severely cripple the defense of the defendant and completely compromise any possibility of an unbiased proceeding.
The hearing of testimonies is also significant during the judicial proceedings implemented by Title IX and the office, because in many cases, solid evidence is rarely available. But none of these testimonies are sworn and “any documents speaking to the character, or lack thereof, of either party will not be included.” This is problematic when the decision of guilt is primarily based on the words of others and no one in the tribunal has any knowledge of the workings of the judicial system. Ironically, the only people who do have such experience and knowledge are the lawyers who are allowed to accompany the accuser and the accused but are not allowed to speak.
When such a disregard for due process and civil rights is exercised without any oversight or regulation, disastrous injustices can now be committed.
Consider the case of Joshua Strange, a former Auburn University student. His ex-girlfriend accused him of sexual assault and simple assault and ended up pressing charges. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Strange was cleared on both counts. On Feb. 3, 2012, a grand jury handed up a “no bill” indictment on a sodomy charge, meaning the evidence was insufficient to establish probable cause for prosecution.”
Unfortunately for Strange, however, an Auburn Tribunal found him guilty of sexual assault through a “preponderance of evidence” and expelled him from school.
It is undeniable that sexual offenses must be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent on college campuses, but it is more important to implement a fair system that does so in accordance with justice and with the respect of civil rights. To disregard such a system is arguably a more severe offense than any of the allegations these makeshift judicial systems are set up to hear.
Patrick An is a junior biology major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.