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Federal Court Bars Miami University From Suspending Student Accused of Sexual Assault

Federal Court Bars Miami University From Suspending Student Accused of Sexual Assault

A Federal Judge in Cincinnati has issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Miami University from suspending a student who had been accused of sexual assault on the campus.

The opinion is available here. 

The student, referred to as John Nokes to preserve his privacy, is an undergraduate at Miami University.  He had completed four semesters of coursework before the school suspended him for  two years for sexually assaulting a female student.  Nokes and the female student engaged in voluntary sexual activity.  Five months later, the female student alleged that Nikes had sexually assaulted her.

Following an investigation and a hearing, the school found that the Miami student had engaged in sexual activity with the female student when she was intoxicated.   Nokes sued, alleging that the school had violated his due process rights by (1) failing to give him proper notice of the nature of the charges and (2) failing to provide him an opportunity to question adverse witnesses.  The Court found that Nokes was sufficiently likely to succeed on these claims to justify the grant of an injunction permitting him to remain in school.

The judge said that an initial Notice of Violation that focused on Nokes alleged use of force failed to provide the student with adequate notice that the hearing panel would, instead, focus on the question of whether the complainant was intoxicated.  The court also appeared concerned about the broad standard of impairment for consent purposes employed by the school.  A school administrator had suggested that everybody on the “campus who takes a drink of alcohol and kisses their boyfriend or girlfriend” potentially has engaged in nonconsensual sexual activity.

The judge also said that the school violated Nokes’ due process rights when the panel considered written statement submitted by the complainant without providing the accused student an opportunity to cross-examine these adverse witnesses.  The court said, “Nokes was never able to test the [witnesses’] memory or credibility, including any improper motives for testifying” against him.

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