Court: Purdue University Student Faced ‘Fundamentally Unfair’ Sexual Assault Hearing

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A federal appeals court has ruled that a Purdue University student accused of sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend faced “fundamentally unfair” proceedings — including not being allowed to view the evidence against him — which resulted in the male student being suspended from school, as well as expelled from the Navy ROTC program.

A panel of three judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously ruled on Friday that a Purdue University student accused of sexual assault may have faced a biased investigation and hearing, according to a report by Inside Higher Ed.

After being accused of groping and touching his ex-girlfriend without her consent, the student was suspended from school for a semester, and required to complete training on sexual violence before being allowed back to school, which in turn, got him expelled from the Navy ROTC program, and terminated his ROTC scholarship, according to court filings.

The two students involved have remained anonymous, referred to as John and Jane Doe in court filings.

After learning of the accusations made against him in a letter from Katherine Sermersheim, the associate vice provost, dean of students and Title IX coordinator, John Doe was suspended from the ROTC program and barred from all buildings where Jane Doe had classes.

John then gave investigators text messages that he believed would bring Jane’s credibility into question. It was added that the male student later appeared before a panel, but his accuser did not. Moreover, two members of the panel had “candidly stated that they had not read the investigative report.”

The third member on the panel — who had apparently read the report — asked John accusatory questions that assumed guilt, according to court filings. The accused student said that he could not speak to any of the evidence against him, because he was not given the opportunity to view the underacted report.

“The panel refused John permission to present witnesses, including character witnesses and a roommate who would state that he was present in the room at the time of the alleged assault and that Jane’s rendition of events was false,” states the federal court.

Jane had reported John for sexual assault in April 2016, which the court noted was “Sexual Assault Awareness Month.”

The court also noted that “Purdue hosted over a dozen events to promote the reporting of sexual assaults,” and that the school’s Center for Advocacy, Response, and Education (CARE), a university center dedicated to supporting victims of sexual violence, had posted a Washington Post article on Facebook, titled, “Alcohol isn’t the cause of campus sexual assault. Men are.”

“John sued the university and several of its officials, asserting two basic claims,” said the federal court, “First, he argued that they had violated the Fourteenth Amendment by using constitutionally flawed procedures to determine his guilt or innocence. Second, he argued that Purdue had violated Title IX by imposing a punishment infected by sex bias.”

“A magistrate judge dismissed John’s suit on the ground that he had failed to state a claim under either theory. We disagree. John has adequately alleged violations of both the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX,” the court adds.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the opinion for the three members of the panel that withholding evidence from John in the proceedings was enough to make the process “fundamentally unfair.”

“To satisfy the due process clause, a hearing must be a real one, not a sham or a pretense,” wrote Barrett, referencing the two members of the panel who had apparently not read the investigative report.

Additionally, Barrett noted that the panel not allowing John to bring any of his witnesses forward, as well as not requiring Jane to be present at the hearing, was also biased.

The report added that the Purdue ruling is the latest in a series of findings siding with the accused, and that accused students have brought lawsuits challenging the findings or processes that colleges have used to judge them.

It was also mentioned that while the Purdue ruling does not mean that John Doe will ultimately be successful in his lawsuit against the school, it does clear the way for his case to be heard by a trial court.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler at @alana, and on Instagram.

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