As reported last week by The Wall Street Journal, the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) has come out in support of the Safe Campus Act (H.R. 3403), introduced last month in the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to strengthen campus due process protections for students accused of sexual assault. FIRE discussed this legislation on The Torch in July, and we support aspects of the bill.
If passed, the Safe Campus Act would require colleges to report alleged sexual assaults to law enforcement before any disciplinary action is taken against accused students and before the institution could offer complainants accommodations, like changes to class schedules or dormitory assignments. FIRE believes Congress should amend this provision to allow for non-punitive accommodations regardless of the complainant’s decision to report the allegation.
Michael Ramos, NDAA’s president-elect and district attorney of the County of San Bernardino, California, told The Wall Street Journal that colleges’ independent tribunals are troubling because students accused of sexual assault face “life-altering consequences” without the kinds of due process protections the criminal justice system affords.
“You have to take away the whole perception that academic institutions are on their own separate island,” Ramos told The Wall Street Journal.
The legislation would also allow all students—both the accuser and the accused—the right to active attorney representation during the campus investigation and hearing process. This is sorely needed because having counsel participate in campus hearings serves as a guard against due process violations that might otherwise occur during the process. It also helps protect students who risk incriminating themselves in a way that may be cited in a future criminal proceeding.
As FIRE has argued repeatedly, leaving the adjudication of campus sexual assault allegations to amateur panels of student conduct administrators, professors, and students is dangerous. They lack the tools to consistently reach just results: access to forensic evidence, subpoena power, the ability to put witnesses under oath, and rules of evidence, just to name a few. They also lack the ability to protect complainants and the community by putting dangerous perpetrators behind bars where they belong.
In order to get violent sexual predators off the street, law enforcement must first be made aware of the problem. To ensure all students are treated fairly and their rights are protected, active assistance of counsel is needed. FIRE is pleased to see the National District Attorneys Association support the due process provisions of the Safe Campus Act.