California Judge Joel Pressman ruled Wednesday that the University of California, San Diego's sexual assault hearings are "unfair." The number one takeaway from the court's ruling is that due process matters when adjudicating felonies. Beyond that, the ruling will no doubt be used in future cases brought about by accused students.
The Los Angeles Times suggested the ruling "could ripple" across the United States. Activists fighting for draconian sexual assault policies are no doubt frustrated by the ruling. Fatima Goss Graves, vice president of the National Women's Law Center, told the Times that the ruling was an outlier.
That's not accurate, however. There have been many lawsuits brought by accused students over the past few years — some have been favorable to the accused students and some have been favorable to the universities. In November 2014, Swarthmore College settled with an expelled student after a lawsuit was filed. In February, the University of Colorado settled with a student. There have been many other cases in which the university settled before a judge was able to rule.
One could speculate as to why a university would settle with a student if it did nothing wrong, but it strains credulity to think the university believed the judge would rule in its favor.
There have also been a string of cases that did receive a judge's ruling — and most of those cases ended in rulings in favor of the university.
The most recent rulings against accused students suggested that the schools were required to provide only the due process rights mentioned in Title IX and nothing further. The rulings also suggested that accused students couldn't prove a gender bias against them.
The California ruling will most certainly be cited by lawyers for accused students in the future because it was the first time that a judge has declared that the process used to find a student responsible was "unfair." Pressman ruled that the accused student wasn't able to defend himself through meaningful cross-examination, as the questions he wanted to ask had to be approved by the hearing chair. Most of the accused students weren't asked, even those dealing with relevant information like how the accuser acted after the alleged rape. When a question was asked, the accused student was given no opportunity to follow-up.
It is an issue that is prevalent across the U.S. when it comes to campus sexual assault hearings. Accused students are afforded extremely limited due process rights. This makes a mockery of the justice system. Students must pay for their own lawyers – if they're even allowed to have one. The lawyer, if allowed to be present, cannot speak on the student's behalf. Witnesses and evidence are disallowed on the whims of hearing panels set up by the university's Title IX office, which is supposed to act as a victim's advocate. Guilt, it seems, is assumed from the start.
So yes, Pressman's ruling will be used to guide further discussion of campus sexual assault adjudication, as it should be. Colleges and universities need to read his ruling and see how fundamentally unfair it is to eviscerate due process for the purposes of appeasing political interests.