President Hennessy has just established an immediate, clear and reasonable standard that will undoubtedly lead to improved awareness, treatment and reduced incidence of sexual assault and violence on Stanford’s campus. At the same time, it is imperative, immediately, for ASSU to do what Viviana Arcia recommends in her op-ed (which everyone should read): make the reasonable standard of proof a Constitutional revision “priority.”
I write in response to Viviana Arcia’s op-ed on President Hennessy’s recent executive order. The order lowered the standard of proof in student misconduct hearings from “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” to “Preponderance of the Evidence” in cases where the student is alleged to have committed a sexual assault. “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” is the standard used in all criminal matters in the United States. The high standard ensures against unjust convictions and reduces the risk of factual errors. The reasonable doubt standard symbolizes the significance our society attaches to personal liberty. By contrast, “Preponderance of the Evidence” is the lowest standard, typically used in civil matters, where the only punishment faced by the accused is a monetary one.
On April 12, President Hennessy released an executive order to lower the standard of proof from “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” to “Preponderance of the Evidence” in cases on sexual assault and relationship abuse. The decision came on the heels of Vice President Biden’s stern call to U.S. universities to better account for campus sexual violence.
An unidentified male suspect was reported to have entered an Escondido Village apartment and sexually assaulted a female resident sleeping in her bed last Saturday. The Stanford Department of Public Safety, which has been investigating the case with the help of the Palo Alto Police Department, released yesterday a detailed description of the attacker in an email to the Stanford community.
Stanford will lower its standard of proof for sexual-assault cases and open the appeals process to alleged victims in response to guidelines released to universities last week by the Obama administration.