Sex Assault and Civil Rights

To the Editor:

Dartmouth’s proposed policy on sexual assault violates or greatly abridges the constitutionally guaranteed rights of students accused under this policy. Here are some of these rights: The right to a public trial. The right to a trial by an impartial jury of one’s peers. The guarantee of due process, such as the right to be informed in advance of your trial of the evidence against you. The right to be represented by counsel. The right to remain silent. The right against self-incrimination. The right not to be tried twice on the same facts. The need to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Dartmouth proceedings would be private. One person, an outside “investigator,” would be appointed as prosecutor, judge and jury. You would be informed of the charges against you, but that’s about it, as far as due process is concerned. You could retain an attorney, but your attorney could not question witnesses, answer questions on your behalf, or advise you in any way during meetings related to the investigation. You would have no right to remain silent or to avoid self-incrimination.

If Dartmouth acquitted you of sexual assault, your accuser can request a rehearing. Dartmouth would not be bound by the results of a criminal trial and might still conduct its own investigation in which the chances of being convicted were much greater than those faced in a criminal trial. Why? Because instead of the need to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” Dartmouth would apply the standard used in civil suits of “a preponderance of evidence.” This means that you would be deemed guilty if most of the evidence pointed in that direction.

Other problematical features of the policy include conflating “retaliation” (that is, trying to persuade someone to drop a sexual assault charge) with sexual assault, and then using this and the concept of collective guilt to convict an organization of sexual assault based on the actions of an undefined number of its members. If Dartmouth College feels entitled to deal privately with felony crimes such as rape, it ought at least to respect the civil rights of the accused.

Thomas J. Curphey