On behalf of Jeffrey Engle at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices LLC

Reporting an alleged sexual assault to campus authorities rather than law enforcement may lead to a lack of due process for the accused.

When parents in Pennsylvania send their children to college, they may expect that difficult classes or low grades are the most serious issues their young students will face. However, on university campuses in Pennsylvania and across the country, many have been subject to a much more devastating challenge: They have been accused of sexual assault.

The Fifth Amendment

Families Advocating for Campus Equality, or FACE, is a non-profit group advocating for the fair treatment of all students. According to that organization, addressing sexual assault should include better reporting systems for victims, which students, parents, college administrators and lawmakers have been working to implement. However, FACE stresses the fact that the new systems should also take into account the rights of the accused.

FACE states that in addition to the assumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, he or she should have the chance to provide evidence of innocence, including witnesses, video or electronic conversations. This is any American's right to due process, which should be protected by law. The group also asserts that the accused has the right to discretion, support and the ability to continue classes and other activities on campus until the hearing is held.

Why do college students need a group advocating for what should be their basic rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? According to the Morning Call, it is because provisions of the Clery Act allow universities to violate those rights.

The Clery Act

The Clery Act is intended to prevent violent crimes on campus through better policies and procedures such as security reports, information on campus safety and a reporting system for victims of crimes. It is that system that some believe has led to issues for victims and for those who have been wrongly accused.

Rather than requiring students to report sexual assault to law enforcement, the person who claims to be the victim of a sex crime has the option to take the accusation to campus security authorities, such as an administrator, counselor or advisor. Because of the lack of an official report, the situation is not as likely to receive the proper legal scrutiny that a law enforcement investigation would provide.

A flawed reporting system has the potential to lead to accusations being dealt with internally without an investigation or legal representation, resulting in unfair expulsions. In fact, many of the accused have filed lawsuits against universities recently, claiming that they were never provided an opportunity to defend themselves before punitive actions were taken.

Anyone who is accused of a crime has the rights to an attorney and to due process, and guilt should never be assumed simply because of an allegation. A criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania may be able to provide legal representation for someone whose rights have been denied in a sexual assault case.