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College sex assault guidelines prominently called into question

Here's a question that is sure to elicit passionate arguments across a wide spectrum of opinions among people paying close attention to the handling of sex-based complaints on American college campuses: Is guidance issued to campus officials regarding procedures to follow when investigating alleged instances of rape and other criminal sexual conduct fair or decidedly stacked against those who are accused?

The answer to that question is heavily determinant upon who is being asked for a response.

On the one hand, advocates of college-directed guidance issued by an office within the U.S. Department of Education in 2011 say that it provides valuable information to campus authorities, as well as a fair and workable process for probing alleged instances of wrongdoing and meting out punishment to targeted suspects.

On the other hand, though, there is no dearth of criticism levied upon the directive, and from diverse sources.

And it is growing.

One North Carolina legislator has been especially vocal in his opposition to the guidelines, which he says "deny the often-innocent accused basic due process rights." In fact, Rep. Mark Meadows is asking the Trump administration to flat-out eliminate the guidance, charging that it has resulted in colleges collectively spending huge amounts of money and sometimes overstating the problem to which it is directed.

Meadows is far from being alone in his criticisms. A ranking official with the Association of American Universities says that college authorities across the country have been confused by the guidance and "forced to intuit" what it means. And the "preponderance of evidence" standard it posits in contrast to the higher-level "beyond a reasonable doubt" threshold that typically applies to criminal conduct is patently unfair to accused individuals, say many critics.

A policy director for one advocacy group says that innocent people are being kicked out of school, with the lower standard applicable to allegations against them "actively reducing due process protections."

It remains to be seen how the incoming administration will respond, if at all, to Meadows' petition, which also recommends the repeal of scores of other guidance-related rules issued by federal agencies on other topics.

A student accused in these star-chamber-like forums are often lulled into complacency by the casualness and informality.  Due Process does not apply and the deck is stacked against the alleged transgressor.  Reputations can be ruined, students can be denied the ability to continue their studies and careers and criminal cases can be built upon the foundation of evidence that is elicited at the hearing.  Students are not encouraged to seek counsel beforehand or be accompanied to the hearing by counsel, EVEN THOUGH ANY ADMISSIONS THAT THEY MAKE CAN BE USED AGAINST THEM IN AN EVENTUAL CRIMINAL PROSECUTION.  

As with many sexual assault cases, the authorities need only prove two things: that some sexual act occurred AND that it was not consensual.  The well meaning but tragically naive neophyte may think that they are doing themselves some good by saying "yes, we had sex but it was consensual!".  In doing so, their admission has just handed the authorities half of the evidence that they need to put you in jail (i.e. that some sexual act occurred) and the rest of the evidence (lack of consent) need only come from the mouth of the jilted paramour.  

As always, when questioned by any authority, shut up and call a lawyer.  

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Law Office of Christopher A. Connelly
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