UC Santa Barbara
Courtesy Photo

Despite passing a polygraph test, John Doe, a UCSB student, lost his Superior Court challenge to a sexual assault finding that is costing him two years of college. UCSB’s Interpersonal Violence Conduct Committee found him guilty of a sexual assault that occurred in 2015, and Judge Donna Geck ruled that the group had correctly used a “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

This case is nothing new for UC Santa Barbara. A similar lawsuit is currently in the courts alleging violation of due process in a sexual assault case. UCSB had been among the 70 colleges and universities investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for the mishandling of Title IX cases through the neglect of victims. Public universities were warned to use the “preponderance of evidence” standard — a “more likely than not” standard that sexual violence occurred — or face the loss of federal funding. UCSB complied with this lower standard of evidence and holds separate hearings regardless of criminal proceeding outcomes.

For John Doe’s attorney, Arthur Willner, this lower standard of evidence comes at the expense of his client’s due process rights: “Schools are not equipped to adjudicate these cases. The standard of proof they use is the most minimal. The people who sit on these hearings have no legal training, and the evidentiary rules are applied on a selective basis.” Willner argued the Department of Education policy affects students’ due process rights all over the country.

Back in June 2015, the victim, Jane Roe, stated she was asleep after a night of drinking and awoke to the intense pain of being sexually assaulted. Two witnesses in the room, deep in conversation, did not notice the assault; Roe said she was too paralyzed with fear to make much sound or movement. She eventually recognized Doe to be her best friend’s boyfriend. An exam by the Santa Barbara County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) found lacerations and bruising. Roe later transferred to UC Santa Cruz.

In his defense to UCSB’s Interpersonal Violence Conduct Committee, John Doe (a pseudonym assigned by the proceedings) stated he had been asleep when Jane Roe (also a pseudonym) screamed someone was hurting her. He was drunk, but he did not touch her. He stated he has mild tremors that made many of Roe’s allegations difficult to perform. Doe suggested Roe was having night terrors from a mixture of alcohol and antidepressant medication. His polygraph test results said his statements were truthful.

But based on the evidence of physical trauma; Jane Roe’s actions, which corresponded to other trauma victims’; and her ability to recall the ongoing conversation, which meant she had not been hallucinating, the Interpersonal Violence Conduct Committee found Doe guilty. The committee also found the lie detector test unreliable because the expert could not state it would work accurately if the test subject were recalling events from when inebriated. And the committee judged Doe’s tremors did not make the alleged actions impossible. A two-year suspension was recommended, which is when Doe turned to the Santa Barbara Superior Court.

Doe had been suspended for nearly a year before the UCSB hearing took place, he told the court in his filings. He had to prove the allegations were false, but a last-minute rescheduling meant his key witness would be studying abroad on the hearing date. And reports on Roe’s physical trauma and antidepressant were given to Doe the day before the hearing, a period inadequate to organize expert witness testimony to rebut. Doe argued the committee allowed evidence and testimony that hurt his case but not those that helped him.

Judge Geck disagreed: Doe was speculating about the prejudice regarding testimony, and he had no corroborating expert testimony that more time would have helped rebut the evidence introduced late. Judge Geck also noted that an administrative agency, like the committee, did not necessarily have the same standard of guilt as a criminal court. Citing Doe v. Regents of the Univ. of California (2013), Geck quotes: “only if no reasonable person could reach the conclusion reached by the administrative agency, based on the entire record before it, will a court conclude that the agency’s findings are not supported by substantial evidence.” Judge Geck concluded the committee met the “reasonable person” standard.

Doe’s attorney Arthur Willner said his client will likely file an appeal and also pursue a federal lawsuit.


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