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Should Students Accused of Sexual Assault in Texas be Allowed to Cross Examine Their Accusers?

Published: Dec 26, 2018 in Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

As sexual assault victims become more vocal on college campuses, how these institutions handle accusations of sexual assault has grown more prevalent. Many universities have been accused of not having proper processes in place to protect both victims of assault and the accused. Many call for due process for all involved in these types of cases. Several federal court cases and decisions in the Midwest are likely to impact how public colleges handle these situations. In the future, it is likely that more state universities will require live hearings where the accused may have the right to question the accuser.

If you are a college or university student who has been accused of a sex crime in Texas, it is important that you speak with Houston sexual assault lawyer Ned Barnett. During such a challenging time, you need to have an attorney who is present and ready to protect your rights during a criminal investigation, the criminal court process, and during any disciplinary hearing at your school.

To speak with a lawyer about your rights and options after being accused of a sex crime, contact The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-676a7.

Due Process After Sexual Assault Allegations on Campus

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states a person shall not be deprived of their life, liberty, or property without the due process of law. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which encompasses Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, clarified in a September 2017 ruling in Doe v. University of Cincinnati that this due process clause guarantees fairness during state universities’ disciplinary processes. The court specifically stated, “the Due Process Clause guarantees fundamental fairness to state university students facing long-term exclusion from the educational process.”

The Court found that the university failed to provide a fundamentally fair process because it did not require the accuser or any other witnesses to be present at the hearing and questioned. The university determined the parties’ credibility prior to making a disciplinary decision. However, it did not let the accused question the accuser, which was fundamentally unfair. The court concluded that questioning the accuser was essential to determining credibility.

Questioning the Parties Involved Requires a Live Hearing

Before you can get to the question of whether an accused party has the right to question their accuser, you first have to determine whether there will be a live hearing. The Sixth Circuit heavily questioned an attorney representing the University of Michigan regarding why the university did not allow a live hearing regarding sexual assault accusations as it did for other types of disciplinary issues. The court has not yet issued a ruling, but the panel made it clear it did not agree with the lack of a live hearing in regard to sexual assault cases.

What Do Federal Courts in Texas Think?

Texas is under the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which also covers Louisiana and Mississippi. In a case decided in June 2017, Plummer v. University of Houston, two individuals accused of offenses related to sexual assault argued that they were denied the ability to confront and cross-examine the accuser in violation of their due process.

The Fifth Circuit agreed that public universities must ensure fundamentally fair processes, but that the amount of due process necessary in a university’s proceedings depends on the students’ interests that will be affected; the risk of erroneous deprivation of such interests through that procedures used and the probable value, if any, of adding or substituting procedural safeguards; and the university’s interests. In other words, the court states that a university’s due process standard may be lower in certain circumstances.

The court ultimately ruled that it found no violations of the accused’s due process rights. However, it also noted that the case did not require the court to determine whether cross-examination would ever or always be required for disciplinary hearings.

Contact a Houston Sexual Assault Lawyer for Help

The different outcomes between cases in the Fifth and Sixth circuit courts are important. It illustrates that federal judicial opinions differ on what students’ due process rights are, and how to best protect those rights during public university disciplinary proceedings.

Because of this lack of legal guidance, universities’ processes vary greatly. This makes it even more important for students accused of sexual assault to work with attorneys who will fight for their due process rights to be protected during a university’s investigation and disciplinary hearings.

If you are accused of a sex crime by another student, contact a Houston sexual assault lawyer from The Law Offices of Ned Barnett right away at (713) 222-6767, or reach out via our online form.