Court rules accused can question accusers in sexual misconduct hearings at Tennessee campuses

(WMC Action News 5)
Updated: Sep. 11, 2018 at 5:04 PM CDT
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Court rules accused can question accusers in sexual misconduct hearings at Tennessee campuses

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Changes are being made in how some Mid-South colleges and universities handle sexual assault cases.

Tennessee is one of four states impacted by a ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that now allows students accused of sexual assault to cross-examine their accusers at disciplinary hearings.

The decision impacts sexual assault allegations at public colleges and universities in the four states that make up the 6th Circuit. “

"They have very systematically avoided making it court-like or wanting to use legal terms,” said Deborah Clubb, executive director of Memphis Area Women’s Council.

Clubb said the decision reshapes the current investigative model at local higher learning institutions.

“So this is going to cause some major changes in how they go about handling these things,” Clubb said.

The biggest change ordered by the court is that the university must give the accused student or their agent an opportunity to cross-examine the accuser.

University of Memphis and Southwest Community College fall under the ruling.

U of M’s current sexual misconduct policy allows both the accused and the person who reported the misconduct to provide written statements about an incident - but no direct questioning of the other person.

Through a statement issues by the Tennessee Board of Regents, WMC5 learned Southwest Community College already allows accused students to cross examine witnesses in a way that is “constitutionally sufficient and fair to the accused, and protects the accuser from further harm or harassment.”

Students we spoke with at U of M had mixed reactions.

“It gives the person that’s been accused a chance in some way to defend themselves,” said student Royal Parson.

“I’ve known people who’ve been victims of sexual assault, it’s hard enough to come forward,” said another student who wanted to remain anonymous.

Clubb said she too was concerned the ruling would be a deterrent to students reporting assaults.

Friday’s decision is the result of a lawsuit filed against the University of Michigan by a student who faced expulsion when he was accused of sexual assault.

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