Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A triumph of justice: Caleb Warner's expulsion lifted

The University of North Dakota has lifted sanctions against a former student it dismissed last year for sexual assault but whose alleged victim was later criminally charged with filing a false report.

Caleb's story is well known. He and a classmate had consensual sex. She lodged a complaint, and a student relations committee ruled in February 2010 that he violated four sections of UND's code of student life, including “violation of criminal or civil laws.”

At the hearing with the student relations committee, Mr. Warner's lawyer was allowed to attend but could only confer with Mr. Warner during breaks in the proceedings. Mr. Warner was forced to actually defend himself and personally ask questions of the witnesses, including the alleged victim. Witnesses were allowed to “pass” if they didn't want to answer a question.

You know, it was like the Star Chamber -- without as much fairness.

Caleb was banned from campus for three years.

Caleb asked for a rehearing based on new information; specifically, the fact that she was charged with a crime, not him. The fact that he was the real victim here, not her. One of the reasons Mr. Warner was expelled was because he supposedly violated criminal or civil laws. But it turns out that the law enforcement agency charged with actually determining if a crime should be charged determined that it was the accuser, not the accused, who violated criminal laws. 

In a letter to Mr. Warner, Robert Boyd, UND's vice president of student and outreach services at the time, rejected the request and based it on a section that requires appeals to be filed within five days of any sanction.

What do you suppose the reaction would have been if Mr. Warner had been cleared of the charges but then, later, was charged with rape?  Do you think there would be protests about the fact he wasn't punished? And don't you think the school would react to that? The questions scarcely survive their statement.

It turns out that UND revealed it had used the very same evidence to find Caleb Warner guilty of sexual assault that the police and prosecutor had used to charge his accuser with lying to law enforcement.

Finally, North Dakota’s provost, Paul A. LeBel, wrote last week in a formal ruling that although the presumption of innocence applies to the accuser, who will not be extradited for the case to proceed, the arrest warrant reflects the “professional judgment of a trained law-enforcement officer that there was probable cause to doubt” the accusation. The sanctions against Caleb were lifted.

It was a very belated, but correct, decision.