Prosecutors Support More Due Process for Accused Students

August 18, 2015

By Ashe Schow at Washington Examiner

The National District Attorneys Association has come out in favor of the Safe Campus Act, a bill that would increase due process for students accused of sexual assault.

Currently, colleges and universities are handling such accusations, and allowing accusers to decide whether the criminal or quasi-judicial campus court system handle the complaint. The Safe Campus Act would also prevent colleges and universities from adjudicating an allegation of sexual assault if an accuser refuses to report to the police.

Michael Ramos, the district attorney of San Bernardino County in California and the NDAA’s president-elect, told the Wall Street Journal that “You have to take away the whole perception that academic institutions are on their own separate island.”

Opponents of the new bill said it would make campuses less safe because women would be less likely to come forward. But Joe Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education argues that police involvement would ultimately benefit victims and the community.

“Rape, after all, is a serious, dangerous crime. When law enforcement and courts are not involved early, perpetrators remain free to prey on new victims,” Cohn wrote in the Hill.

“Does anyone think it was reasonable for New York University to wait two months before advising the police that one of its students had uploaded a video of himself lighting his girlfriend on fire as she lay passed out in her dorm? NYU apparently delayed reporting the incident to the police to honor the victim’s preference.”

The Safe Campus Act would not only require police involvement prior to a campus investigation, but would also buff up due process protections for accused students. The bill would allow accusers and the accused to hire an attorney at their own expense. Accused students would also be given the right to know the charges against them and see the evidence against them (something, shockingly, most schools do not provide currently).

The bill would go a long way toward establishing fairness and credibility in campus courts. As Cohn noted, if the criminal justice system has been ineffective in the past, it is time to reform that process instead of creating an alternate, pseudo-justice system devoid of due process.By ensuring that law enforcement is involved early in the process (so long as the accuser makes her claim early), the bill would give accusers the best chance of obtaining evidence and get perpetrators off the street.

Correction: An earlier version of this article labeled the Safe Campus Act as a “mandatory reporting” bill. This is not accurate. Schools would not be required to report a sexual assault to the police when a student comes forward, however, they could not conduct their own investigation absent police involvement. If an accuser does not want to report the alleged crime to the police, they will not be forced to do so under the bill.