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During the past decade, the government focused much attention on the rights and interests of alleged sexual assault victims at colleges and universities. The Department of Education’s guidance regarding Title IX sexual assault cases under the Obama administration focused on ensuring a complainant had sufficient protections, while largely ignoring the interests of the accused. When you consider the possibility that not every sexual assault accusation is founded, this attitude can result in the denial of due process for students accused of sexual misconduct.

However, under the current administration, more focus has turned to the due process rights of the accused. A recent decision out of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals only illustrates this shift, as the ruling emphasized the need to uphold due process in college sexual assault proceedings.

The Sixth Circuit case arose from proceedings at the University of Michigan and involved allegations of assault when the complainant was too intoxicated to consent to sex at a fraternity party. The university had its own investigator interview 25 witnesses and did not find enough evidence to support the misconduct claim. However, the university’s appeals board then reviewed the witness reports and reversed the finding, determining that the complainant’s witnesses were more credible than the accused’s witnesses.

The accused student filed a lawsuit claiming the university violated his constitutional rights to due process. The Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiff, finding that the school denied him due process by not providing the following:

  • A live hearing in front of a neutral fact-finder
    • The opportunity to cross-examine witnesses

The court noted that cross-examination in a live hearing “takes aim at credibility like no other procedural device…to test [a witness’s] memory, intelligence, or potential ulterior motives.”

In the above case, the University of Michigan’s investigator first made a decision, then the Appeals Board, without ever giving the accused the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses or have a neutral fact-finder hear the witness testimony. This may likely set a standard for other federal circuits to follow, especially with the changing tides of Title IX policies coming from the federal government.

The emphasis on due process rights of accused students is in line with the interim policies of the Department of Education under the Trump administration and Secretary DeVos. In addition, documents recently leaked that appeared to propose changes to Title IX regulations that aim to further solidify the assurance of due process rights in college and university sexual assault cases.

Our New Haven, Connecticut, Title IX Law Firm Can Help You

At Duffy Law, our highly experienced Title IX and Conduct Code attorneys know that the law must protect the rights of both alleged victims of sexual assaults and accused students. We also know that the policies regarding the already complex Title IX law are changing, and schools do not always keep up. If you stand accused of sexual assault at college, speak with our lawyers to learn how they may help uphold your due process rights. Call (203) 946-2000 or contact us online today.

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