Education

Court Rules Student Denied Due Process Over Sex Assault Case

A recent federal court ruling raises new concerns about the Obama administration’s policy on how post-secondary institutions address and investigate sexual assault accusations. 

The College Fix reports that in a Dec. 23 decision, a U.S. district court ruled James Madison University (JMU) violated a student’s right to due process after he was first exonerated of rape allegations and then suspended by the academic institution after a second investigation.

Double jeopardy – trying a person twice for the same alleged offense – is unconstitutional in the United States, but apparently not at colleges and universities where the practice was forced on them by the Department of Education’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” guidance letter. This directive insisted that the “preponderance of evidence” — not “beyond a reasonable doubt” — be the deciding factor in determining guilt or innocence in a sexual assault case.

The U.S. district court in Harrisonburg, Virginia says “John Doe” was deprived of his “protected property interest” by not being admitted to the university.

The student endured a five-and-a-half year suspension after his accuser, “Jane Roe,” appealed his acquittal.

JMU President Jonathan Alger and the student affairs senior vice-president Mark Warner are named in Doe’s suit.

The rape accusation all began from an internal investigation of an alleged dorm room rape in August 2014. Roe didn’t report the incident for another two months

Doe was exonerated by the first board of inquiry but his accuser, using the Dear Colleague provisions, initiated another investigation.

According to Judge Elizabeth Dillon, who wrote the ruling, the three professors on the reconstituted appeal board enabled Roe to submit new evidence past her deadline.

She was highly critical of the process. “In short, Doe was given no opportunity to respond to some of the evidence…was hampered by the rules prohibiting contact with witnesses or limited by time constraints in responding to others…and was not permitted to appear before the appeal board.”

Though the board did not find Doe responsible for sexual assault, it nonetheless punished Doe by suspending him from the university until 2020.

The court has told the university to seek an “appropriate remedy” with Doe.

Follow David on Twitter