A stricter standard
December 7, 2006
Given the poor representation of women in the Student Assembly Senate, it is unusual for the female Senators to vote together as a block — there are only four of us in a body of 22, so we don’t have much sway when it comes to majority votes. However, last Tuesday’s consideration of the Judicial Code Reformation Act produced this Senate’s first ever gender-split vote; with three women voting against the bill, one woman abstaining and all but one man voting in support. The cause of this division seems, at first glance, somewhat innocuous: a proposal to change the burden of proof in College judicial cases from the currently used standard of “clear and convincing” to the stricter “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Initially this can sound like a good idea — if it’s a higher standard of determining guilt, why not apply it to the College’s judicial proceedings? There are several reasons.
p. Firstly, the use of this stricter standard is inappropriate because the penalties of College judicial proceedings do not justify its use. It is the burden of proof used in criminal courts in the United States, and simply stated, it means that a judge or jury must be sure, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the defendant has committed the crime. The exactness demanded by this burden of proof is necessary because the defendant faces, if found guilty, a sentence that will lead to the deprivation of life or liberty. From a legal standpoint, College punishments, up to and including expulsion, are incomparable with imprisonment or loss of life.
p. Secondly, the College does not have the resources to investigate crimes and prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. For this to be possible, the College would have to conduct investigations as actual prosecutors do, which would require everything from police and investigators to expert witnesses on DNA at their disposal. However, College officials explicitly told co-sponsors of the bill that the College could never have the capacity to collect the evidence necessary to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. No institution of higher learning in the United States uses beyond a reasonable doubt as the burden of proof for internal judicial cases, and for good reason.
p. Beyond being inappropriate and impossible, it was the spirit in which this proposal was made that makes it so offensive and, I believe, caused the vote to split between men and women. The act’s original sponsor and author, Sen. Will Coggin, has a well- established and public history of disagreement with the College’s management of sexual assault cases. I have little doubt that many of these reforms were intended to make the prosecution of sexual assault cases more difficult. The College’s judicial system is by no means perfect, and student-led attempts for reform are a step in the right direction. However, if we truly want to reform our judicial processes for the better, specifically in regard to sexual assault cases, we must start with un-biased perspectives and propose changes that are realistic and just for all students involved.
p. __Meghan McCarthy, a Student Assembly Senator, is a senior at the College. Her views do not necessarily represent those of The Flat Hat.__