U.S. DOE Issues Guidelines Regarding University Sexual Assault Hearings

On behalf of Law Office of Steven Haney posted in Sexual Assault on Thursday, October 20, 2011

With another school year in full swing in colleges throughout the nation, students are not only a month deep into their studies, but many are also immersed in the “college experience” – which often includes Saturday football games and the occasional “kegger.”

Like it or not, ample amounts of alcohol are consumed on most college campuses in the U.S. In addition to the obvious health dangers of alcohol, many college students may begin to find themselves in precarious situations because of alcohol over-consumption. Specifically, college students engaging in sexual relations during an alcohol-fueled Saturday night may now be more easily condemned for sexual assault and be potentially subject to life-altering proceedings because of new U.S. Department of Education guidelines.

Department of Education’s Guidelines

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released guidelines to the nation’s colleges and universities outlining how to handle accusations of sexual assaults on campuses.

One of the notable OCR guidelines asks universities to render a judgment under a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. The basically means that the “jury” – which often consists of faculty, administrators and possibly students – will only have to find that the accused is more likely than not to have committed the assault. This standard or proof is dramatically lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal proceedings.

Another OCR interpretation discourages universities from allowing the accused to question or cross-examine the accuser during their hearing – another fundamental right in an actual criminal proceeding now not available in a university hearing.

College hearings are devoid of many of the due process guarantees inherent in criminal proceedings, but that doesn’t make consequences any less devastating. Students wrongly convicted are not only generally expelled, but they may be barred from many graduates schools and suffer immeasurable damage to their reputation – all in situations that often never lead to criminal charges because the evidence would be insufficient in a court of law.

Being accused and convicted of sexual assault in a university discipline hearing can be almost as life-altering as a criminal conviction. If you have been accused of sexual assault, either in a university or criminal proceeding, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights and options.