Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017
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EDITORIAL

Miami’s kangaroo court

Two years ago, Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, convicted one of its male students of sexual assault and banned him from the university. “John Nokes,” as court documents refer to him, subsequently filed suit against the university, claiming he was denied his due process rights. A federal judge has now ruled in favor of his appeal.

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Slightly over a week later, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a speech announcing the reversal of Obama-era changes to federal law regarding campus sexual assault. One would be hard-pressed to find a better illustration of the need for that reversal than how Miami University found John Nokes guilty of sexual assault.

Mr. Nokes’ alleged victim, “Jane Roe,” stressed in her first written statement that Nokes had coerced her into sex. Mr. Nokes’ initial “notice of violation” reflects Ms. Roe’s testimony, charging him with “sexual assault by the use of force or threat of force.”

Nowhere was there any mention of inability to consent because of incapacitation, but this charge would turn out to be the focus of the case against Mr. Nokes. Prior to his hearing, Mr. Nokes was not informed that he was also charged with assaulting an incapacitated student.

During that hearing, the presiding university official, Susan Vaughn, suggested that as little as one sip of alcohol could be enough to compromise a person’s ability to give consent.

Finally, Ms. Roe’s witnesses never showed up for the hearing, so Mr. Nokes was never granted an opportunity to cross-examine them. Witnesses and cross-examinations are typically important factors in cases of “he said, she said.”

Amazingly, the hearing panel went so far as to state outright that no amount of cross examination would have changed their minds .

There does not appear to have been even a pretense of fact-finding in Mr. Nokes’ original hearing.

Absent the standard of “clear and convincing evidence” required to convict in such cases — now restored by Ms. DeVos — Mr. Nokes was convicted and evicted by a kangaroo court. His is an appalling example of due process being suspended in the name of addressing a grave social issue. But due process always counts and should never be suspended, for any higher purpose. One would have thought the value of due process would be held particularly dear in institutions of higher learning. But that was not the case at Miami.

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