In 2015 I wrote about a police officer who bragged about using information provided by colleges and universities to get around an accused person’s Miranda and constitutional rights.
The officer, Susan Riseling, was the chief of police and associate vice chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (now retired). She told a conference four years ago that police could use information from schools to nail the accused.
“It’s Title IX, not Miranda,” she said. “Use what you can.”
It was a frightening statement at the time, as the number of lawsuits against colleges and universities for violating the due process rights of accused students was increasing. Riseling’s comments suggest a whole new world of horror for innocent students accused under the new “everyone accused is guilty” rules. If a student wished to exercise his right not to speak to police, law enforcement could just go to the school and obtain his previous interviews with Title IX officials, if there were any.
At the University of Massachusetts, Patrick Amara Jr. faced just such a situation. Amara, a football player at the time and citizen of Sierra Leone and the U.K., was accused of raping a woman at a birthday party. He said the encounter was consensual, but the woman said otherwise. During his trial, he refused to testify. According to professor and author K.C. Johnson, jurors heard Amara testify by obtaining records from UMass regarding the Title IX investigation against him there.
In college accusations, if an accused student doesn’t tell his or her side of the story, the investigation continues with only the accuser’s side of the story. This forces many accused students to tell their side of the story in a feeble attempt to save their education from an institution determined to punish them. In the vast majority of cases, they are telling their story before a biased committee without legal representation.
This is the “testimony” heard by the jury in Amara’s trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. As Johnson wrote, “for Amara to be convicted on testimony without the advice of counsel – and without counsel cross-examining the accuser and any other witnesses who testified against him – chips away at his civil liberties.”
Amara may very well be guilty — we don’t know what he said during his campus testimony. Local reporting on the trial suggests the case is a he said/she said situation. The accuser claims Amara was intoxicated and forced himself on her in a bathroom, and that he even stopped when someone knocked on the door to say everything was okay. His attorney argued at trial that it was the accuser who opened the door and said everything was okay.
When Amara was found guilty — in less than four hours of jury deliberation — the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that his attorney, during closing arguments, asked the jury to consider whether Amara could have done what he was accused of due to his level of intoxication and suggested some of the accuser’s claims didn’t make sense. The prosecution, however, said there was no evidence the accuser had given consent and pointed out that two of Amara’s friends gave inconsistent testimony.
Again, Amara could be guilty, but I echo Johnson’s concerns about sidestepping a defendant’s rights by using information obtained in a pseudo campus court.