A ruling in favor of a student at the University of California-San Diego, who claimed he was not accorded due process after being accused of rape by another student, could have repercussions far beyond the West Coast campus.
According to the Los Angeles Times, this ruling "is believed to be the first judicial ruling in recent years to find that a university failed to provide a fair trial in a sexual misconduct case."
"[The ruling] could have tremendous persuasive influence on other courts," said Amy Wax, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who, along with 15 colleagues, has raised concerns about the rights of accused students in campus sexual assault cases.
Not everyone agrees:
Fatima Goss Graves, vice president of the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C., called the decision an outlier that was inconsistent with other court rulings on the due process protections required in these cases.
The story begins with a hook-up. As the Los Angeles Times describes it:
In the San Diego case, Doe met the accuser, identified in court papers as Jane Roe, at a party in January 2014 and began engaging in consensual oral sex later that month. On Jan. 31, 2014, the couple went to a fraternity party and returned to his apartment, where they had sexual intercourse and woke up in bed together the next morning.
The woman told campus investigator Elena Acevedo Dalcourt that the encounter had shattered her and that she had sought help at UC San Diego's Sexual Assault Resource Center. But she continued to socialize and study with Doe, according to text messages and testimony.
Four months later, she filed a complaint alleging two instances of sexual activity without her consent and a third charge of retaliation.
She told Dalcourt that she was incapacitated from drinking vodka and could not give consent for the encounters. But statements from 14 witnesses differed on how drunk she was, Dalcourt found.
In December, a university hearing panel affirmed those findings and recommended sanctions, including a one-quarter suspension, sexual harassment training and counseling. After Doe sent a letter of response to Dean Sherry L. Mallory, she increased the sanctions to a one-year suspension, which would have required him to reapply for admission to the campus, among other things. Another internal appellate panel increased the sanctions further.
"This was a completely botched administrative hearing and punitive sanctions," said the accused student's attorney, Matthew H. Haberkorn of Menlo Park. He said he expects to file a lawsuit.
The ruling is important because many critics are concerned that government guidelines for handling campus rape allegations do not give the accused due process. Twenty-eight Harvard Law professors, for example, wrote an open letter arguing that newly-adopted guidelines did not include "the most basic elements of fairness and due process" and were "overwhelmingly stacked against the accused." This ruling may help ensure that both parties are given an opportunity to be heard and receive justice.