VICTORY: Judge rules university can't shift burden of proof onto the accused
A Tennessee judge has ruled that a university cannot shift the burden of proof onto an accused student and force them to prove a crime didn't occur.
Judge Carol McCoy has overturned a University of Tennessee-Chattanooga decision that found former wrestling star Corey Mock responsible for sexual assault, claiming the school provided no evidence to prove the assault happened.
McCoy found that UTC "improperly shifted the burden of proof and imposed an untenable standard upon Mr. Mock to disprove the accusation" that he assaulted Molly Morris, a fellow classmate.
The decision comes as more and more universities adopt a "yes means yes" consent policy, which shifts the burden of proof to the accused as a matter of policy.
Morris, who along with UTC is being sued by Mock, shared her story publicly in December 2014 with Vice Sports, nearly four months after Mock had been expelled. She and Mock had met using the social media app Tinder. The two exchanged messages and eventually had a class together and were friendly. Morris claims she told Mock she wasn't interested in a relationship.
On March 16, 2014, Morris attended a party to which Mock had invited her. She began drinking around 2 a.m., when she arrived, and says she eventually ended up sick in the restroom after drinking what she believed was a drugged beverage. She claims Mock found her unconscious in the bathroom and tried to wake her up by slapping her face. She says she doesn't remember much after that except for Mock engaging in sexual activity with her.
Mock's father, who was the wrestling coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, began a blog to dispute Morris' claims and tell his son's side of the story. He claims that Mock never found Morris unconscious and notes that witnesses at the party testified that Morris never appeared intoxicated. Mock's father also says a toxicology report taken a day after the party that came back negative for any drugs.
Mock said during his campus hearing that he asked Morris if she wanted to go to the bedroom and she said "yes." Once there, he removed her pants and his own clothes and she removed her own bra and helped position him. Mock contends that her active participation proved consent.
The two exchanged friendly messages for the next week, until Morris told Mock that she had not consented on March 16. Mock learned that Morris had reported the alleged assault to the university on June 4, nearly three months after the encounter. After an investigation and a hearing, a university chancellor detailed 49 findings of fact and concluded the university had not proved by a preponderance of evidence that Morris was unable to consent.
Morris then personally met with UTC Chancellor Steven R. Angle in August 2014. Angle petitioned the original administrative law judge to reconsider her finding. Without altering her findings of facts, the campus judge changed her conclusion to find Mock responsible for sexual misconduct. He was expelled.
After exhausting his appeals within the school, Mock filed a lawsuit in December 2014 and sought a stay of his expulsion so he could continue his studies. The court agreed and he was allowed to continue his education at UTC, but was denied his scholarship and barred from the wrestling team.
Judge McCoy ruled that the university could not force Mock to prove the assault didn't occur, and that since the school offered no evidence that Morris didn't consent, the finding against Mock was "arbitrary and capricious."
McCoy ordered the school to uphold its initial findings that Mock was not responsible.
Mock's father, in an email to the Washington Examiner, said that he and his son are "very pleased with the judge's decision; we weren't sure if anyone was going to follow the law, and this has restored our faith." But he is aware that UTC may try to appeal the ruling and that this case may not be over.
As for what's next for Corey Mock, his father is unsure.
"No idea where Corey goes from here, he is weighing his options, something he hasn't had in a long time," Mock's father wrote. "This is the first good news we have had in over a year and we are thanking God and trying to enjoy it."
The ruling comes on the heels of two recent victories for students accused of sexual assault. Last week a Virginia judge upheld an accused student's claim of gender bias in campus sexual assault procedures. In July, a California judge ruled that schools are "unfair" to limit due process in hearings.
You can read the judge's ruling here, courtesy of K.C. Johnson.