If there was a murder on a college campus, would you prefer a university tribunal or the police department be called in to investigate and resolve the matter?   

In case you missed it, the Washington Post yesterday had an excellent oped by lawyer Cleta Mitchell and former Mississippi senator Trent Lott,  on how we deal with sexual assault allegations on college campuses, which raised just that point. 

Their key point is that law enforcement, not ill-equipped campus tribunals, should deal with this serious crime:

A recent poll by Penn Schoen Berland found that over 90 percent of likely voters believe that law enforcement — not colleges and universities — should be responsible for investigating and prosecuting allegations of sexual assault on campus. It is time to bring justice to campus, protect the rights of all students and student organizations, punish perpetrators and ensure a safe college experience for students.

Today, colleges and universities are frequently required to investigate and judge reported crimes of sexual violence without first involving law enforcement. Because schools do not possess the investigative and forensic capabilities of law enforcement, or the due process protections of the criminal justice system, this results in a deeply flawed process that is less capable of stopping and punishing perpetrators and more likely to violate the basic due-process rights of those involved. Recently, San Diego Judge Joel M. Pressman ruled that the University of San Diego did not give an accused student a fair hearing, sparking conversations nationwide about the need to overhaul this troubled system.

The current approach is much more likely to result in errors that could harm students for the rest of their lives. In many cases, students are not allowed to review the charges against them, are not permitted access to counsel and cannot cross-examine witnesses or know the status of their cases. Student groups have been subject to blanket bans or suspensions due to the alleged activities of a small number of students.

When a perpetrator has been found guilty by the school, the most serious punishment available is expulsion. But those who commit sexual violence should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. As the Rape, Incest and Abuse National Network (RAINN) wrote to the White House last year, “It would never occur to anyone to leave the adjudication of a murder in the hands of a school’s internal judicial process. Why, then, is it not only common, but expected, for them to do so when it comes to sexual assault?”

Lott and Mitchell support the Safe Campuses Act, sponsored by three House Republicans, which would get law enforcement involved and accord the accused due process. It is in marked contrast to the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), a bipartisan bill that relies more on the campus tribunal and is not careful to preserve the rights of the accused.