“Yes Means Yes”: Protecting the Victim or Shifting the Burden of Proof on Connecticut College Campuses?

sexuaxl assault college, Connecticut sex crimes defense lawyerAllegations of sexual assault on college campuses are sadly not new phenomena, but sex crime defense attorneys across Connecticut are very concerned.  Attention to the subject was heightened by the Rolling Stone magazine piece entitled, “A Rape on Campus,” wherein the author described an existent rape culture at The University of Virginia. The substance of the article was subsequently proven false, and the article was included in a Columbia Journalism Review piece on The Worst Journalism of 2014. Whether the allegations were true or false, the article thrust the issue into the national political limelight. As politicians are prone to do, the response may have gone too far.

Currently moving through the Legislature is a bill that is the cause for concern for experienced Connecticut criminal defense lawyers who focus on sex crimes defense.  The “yes means yes” bill, would require the accused in a sexual assault case in Connecticut colleges and universities to prove that he received  an “affirmative consent” from another individual before proceeding with any form of sexual relations. The definition of “affirmative,” could include both verbal and non-verbal cues. However, the onus would be upon the accused to prove that consent was given in one form or another.

The bill’s proponents contend that passage would eliminate “victim shaming,” or focusing on whether the victim of sexual assault had been drinking or wearing provocative clothes. Detractors believe that the legislation would only lead to greater confusion in relying on verbal and non-verbal cues to determine an appropriate course of action in those situations. Though the University of Connecticut, the University of New Haven and Yale University already have such guidelines in place, Connecticut would join only California in enacting such a statewide law that would shift the burden to the accused to prove that he did nothing wrong on college campuses.

Even though no new criminal laws or punishment is being proposed, and would apply only in administrative or disciplinary proceedings on college campuses, many Connecticut criminal defense lawyers believe this law is overreaching and is a Constitutional attack upon the presumption of innocence. Disciplinary and other administrative proceedings have significant consequences that could lead to being dismissed from school for an alleged rape.  These hearings could also lead to more serious rape or sexual assault charges by the State of Connecticut.

A long standing tenet of American Jurisprudence is that an accused is innocent until proven guilty.  It is also a widely held belief that a defendant or accused need not testify against themselves, even in an administrative hearing.  The proposed legislation essentially requires the accused to prove his innocence, which should give everyone pause. More concerning is whether this legislation will be confined to college campuses or whether it could ultimately become the rule of law everywhere in Connecticut. It’s a slippery slope we ride.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers Today

The penalties for rape and sexual assault, both on campus and not, are severe and can affect both your freedom and your livelihood.  If you have been charged with any sexual offense, a skilled Hartford criminal defense attorney at the Woolf Law Firm, LLC can help. Contact us today for an initial consultation and learn what we can do for your situation. Also, for more information about Connecticut sexual assault laws and punishments, please see our blog post on the subject.

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