Stan Garnett: ‘Shadow’ campus system is no solution




An excerpt from and op-ed by Stan Garnett

District attorney of Colorado’s 20th Judicial District, headquartered in Boulder, CO

As a person who deals with the issue of sex assault on campus , it seems appropriate for me to offer some opinions in the context of Congressman Polis’s remarks and the discussion they have engendered.

First, it is important that we be clear what is being discussed. Sex assault is a very serious crime. Most sex assaults in Colorado are at least class 4 felonies, potentially punishable by many years in prison, mandatory registration as a sex offender, court-ordered sex offender treatment and large fines, as well as the life-changing consequences of a felony conviction.


Although universities adjudicate student discipline, it is a serious mistake to equate investigation and resolution of felony sex assault with cheating on a test or drinking or smoking in a dorm room or the other normal fodder of the university discipline process, where due process on some level is important, but of an entirely different quality than the criminal justice system provides. …

The risk of wrongful conviction is too great [in campus adjudications]. The rigorous due process of the criminal justice system exists for mainly one reason: to make sure society can have confidence that one who is found guilty is, in fact, guilty. Relaxing due process, or having investigations not handled by well-trained professionals can lead to wrongful conviction.


The criminal justice system is public and the public can observe, evaluate and criticize the proceedings. University conduct investigations carry the inherent secrecy of the discipline process, which can leave the public questioning the fairness of an investigation and the accuracy of the determinations.


The federal government’s decision to tie campus funding to a one size fits all investigative approach can interfere with criminal investigations. Fair, effective, sex assault investigations take time and cannot be handled by investigators under pressure to rush to a particular conclusion due to financial pressures on the university. Also, “warning letters” or warning bulletins, or campus-based “stay away from each other” orders can, if issued prematurely, prevent law enforcement from determining the truth of alleged criminal behavior.

Read the entire piece HERE

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