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The University of Colorado Assault Allegations, Due Process and the Rush to Judgment

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When students become entangled in highly charged off-campus incidents, the collective rush to judgment and demand for action that sometimes follows can present difficult choices for school administrators and a dangerous blurring of the lines between criminal justice and school discipline. When decisions are made in haste without consideration for the presumption of innocence and the rights of those involved, fundamental rights – including the right to due process – often fall by the wayside.

Such is the case at the University of Colorado where a 19-year-old male student is facing sexual assault charges and mounting protests for his swift removal from the school.

Writes the Boulder Daily Camera:

According to an arrest affidavit, the named victim was in a sorority and attended a “date dash” event in Loveland on Jan. 31 in which members were required to bring a date.

The woman was set up with Roper by another member but had never met him before the event. According to the affidavit, the woman was drinking along with Roper and others before going up to Loveland, and did not have a clear memory of most of the night.

The woman said the next thing she remembered after drinking before heading to the event was waking up with Roper sexually assaulting her.

Following his arrest, CU students began organizing a campus protest demanding that the student be removed from school pending the outcome of the criminal case.A statement posted to the event’s Facebook page said, “We are rallying on Monday at the UMC fountains to demand that the University suspend the student until his trial and expel him if found guilty.”

On one hand, what students at CU are saying is that they want to feel safe on campus and will not tolerate a culture of sexual violence or other misconduct. And they shouldn’t. But while the safety and security of CU students is undeniably important, prohibiting a student from attending school based on a mere allegation of wrongdoing creates more problems than it solves. The criminal case is still in its infancy and could take a year or more to resolve. Suspending this young man simply because he’s been accused of wrongdoing embodies a “guilty until proven innocent” response. It’s a reactive approach to the problem that ignores the often very real difference between a mere allegation and the truth. Due process is the bedrock of our criminal justice system for a reason. It acknowledges that false accusations are made and puts the burden on the government to prove that something indeed happened before depriving a person of his liberty or property. The same must be true in an academic setting.

Kids work hard to get into college. Obtaining a college degree can define a young person’s future. Removing someone from school based on accusation alone, when the reality is that getting back into school or into another school is highly unlikely, is unfair and completely ignores the importance of our system of due process. The university has every right and ability to put a plan in place that keeps students and faculty safe pending the outcome at trial. It can conduct its own fair and impartial proceeding to determine if this young man did something that warrants removing him from school. But absent that, no punishment or removal from school is justified. If it was your son or daughter’s life and education at stake, you would demand a fair process.

For instance, CU is obligated by federal anti-discrimination laws to initiate what is known as a Title IX proceeding to determine whether this young man violated school policy by committing an act of sexual misconduct. This is done through its Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC). The OIEC conducts an investigation – in which the complainant, accused and witnesses may participate – designed to determine, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether an act of wrongdoing actually occurred. While this process is far from perfect and has its own significant shortcomings, it provides some modicum of due process before a student can be removed from school. In this case, we do not yet know whether CU has initiated that process. What is known is that adopting the sort of policy being advocated by CU students would be significantly unfair to students accused of any type of misconduct and allow for an environment where unfettered and untested allegations take precedence over due process and the rule of law.

For more information, or for help with a school disciplinary action or Title IX investigation, please contact Lindsay Richardson.

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