N.D. may become second state to allow students to hire attorneys By Ashe Schow
The U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees, among other things, the right to counsel in criminal proceedings. Colleges and universities have thus far skirted this right in campus sexual assault cases by stating the hearings are disciplinary — not criminal — in nature.
But because the information used in those hearings can be turned over to police to be used in criminal proceedings, allowing students involved in the hearing — the accusers and the accused — to have legal representation is just common sense.
And yet, it’s not so common. Only one state — North Carolina — allows students at public universities to acquire legal representation in campus courts for charges of harassment, rape and theft.
A similar bill in North Dakota could be the beginning of a trend of states guaranteeing their students are allowed legal representation during such hearings. S.B. 2150 would allow students to hire attorneys to “fully participate” in disciplinary hearings for non-academic matters, such as those that would be considered criminal outside of college campuses.
A Grand Forks Herald editorial endorsed the bill, citing some of the current legal problems with the way colleges have thus far handled cases of sexual assault.
“If you say nothing, that can be used against you. But if you speak up, that can be used against you, too — especially later. For if criminal charges result from the accusation, then everything you say at the hearing will be admissible in court,” wrote Tom Dennis.
Dennis notes that allowing due process rights for the accused does not equal reduced rights for accusers, as some activists would have you believe.
“These changes aren't meant to return sexual-assault victims to the Dark Ages of indifference or contempt,” Dennis wrote. “Instead, they're meant to bring balance: to recognize that increased sensitivity to accusers' concerns also warrant heightened sensitivity to the rights of the accused.”