A state court in Tennessee has ruled in favor of a student expelled for sexual assault, saying his school’s procedures improperly assumed he was guilty and forced him to prove his innocence.
The case of Corey Mock and Molly Morris, both students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), has attracted significant attention thanks to a lengthy profile of Morris that was published by Vice last year. Morris claims she was given a drugged drink at a party, and then was later raped by Mock while she was barely conscious and unable to consent. She complained to her school several months later and got Mock expelled. Mock has aggressively protested his innocence, and his father even started a blog dedicated to his son’s case.
Now a Tennessee judge Carol McCoy says the school’s reasoning for expelling Mock was fatally flawed, relying on a standard that forced him to prove that he’d obtained consent for sex, rather than forcing his accuser to show he hadn’t.
“The UTC Chancellor improperly shifted the burden of proof and imposed an untenable standard upon Mr. Mock to disprove the accusation that he forcible assaulted Ms. Morris,” McCoy wrote in her ruling.
She also faulted the school for initially finding Mock not responsible for assault, but then changing its mind after an appeal from Morris even thought it hadn’t changed any of its factual findings. Ultimately, she characterized the school’s decision as “arbitrary and capricious.”
The decision is second in the past month to vindicate accused students who say their due process rights were violated in campus proceedings. In early July a California judge rebuked the University of California, San Diego for “unfairly” limiting the due process rights of an accused student by denying him the full right to question his accuser. The judge ordered the school to vacate the student’s punishment and let him return to campus.
The Tennessee ruling is especially notable for the implications it has regarding the rising popularity of so-called “affirmative consent” standards. Under such standards, a person is held to have committed sexual assault if they don’t receive explicit consent for each sexual act. This is in contrast to the prevailing criminal law standard, where sexual assault occurs when a person ignores another’s explicit denial of consent. McCoy’s ruling that UTC improperly burdened Mock by expecting him to prove he obtained consent suggests that affirmative consent rules could have a troublesome time in American courts.
Such decisions should add wind the sails of those who argue that rape allegations are best handled in criminal courts rather than the ad-hoc world of campus judiciaries. A law recently introduced to the U.S. House, which is backed by several national organizations of fraternities and sororities, would do just that, requiring schools to defer to police before taking any action of their own against an alleged rapist. (RELATED: New House Bill Would Protect Students Accused Of Rape)
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