All On Georgia

Georgia Looks at Changing Prosecution Process for Campus Felonies

The Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill that requires campus officials to report crimes to campus or local law enforcement, with the exception of health providers and counselors.

House Bill 51 states that investigation of a reported felony will not “be undertaken by the post-secondary institution unless such investigation is done by a campus law enforcement agency staffed by law enforcement officers who are certified peace officers by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.”

The bill encompasses all felonies but only singles out sexual assault cases. When the crime involves sexual assault, the victim is not required to cooperate in investigations or have their name specified in reports. However, no student will be placed under interim punishment pending the investigation for conduct violations without a hearing for the accused student.

Law enforcement decides whether to inform the proper prosecutor’s office of the crime and post-secondary schools are not permitted to conduct their investigation until law enforcement has completed their own.

“If there are criminal investigations going on those are handled by our university police or by Statesboro Police Department or Bulloch County Sheriff’s department. Our process is an administrative hearing and we’re dealing with our administrative policies so the standards are different, beyond a reasonable doubt versus preponderance, the investigation techniques. There’s a lot of difference in those procedures,” Joel Wright, director of Equal Opportunity and Title IX at Georgia Southern University, said. 

Many agencies are involved in prosecuting campus crime cases, such as Title IX offices, campus and/or local law enforcement, and administrative judicial officials, so that victims may have to repeat and relive their story multiple times, resulting in victims feeling that the prosecution process isn’t worth the trouble, according to GSU Chief of Police Laura McCullough.

McCullough has been working as an officer of the peace for 17 years between Georgia and Tennessee universities and has only seen one case go to court out of roughly 60 cases over that time.

“It has to be a victim-driven process. A lot of times the victim chooses not to so now my concern is that we’re forcing victims to do something that they may not want to and that’s going to be more traumatic to them beyond what has already happened,” McCullough said.

Disciplinary investigations by the university will not obstruct the criminal investigation by law enforcement and will not happen if the victim is not involved in the process.

The bill has passed from the state House to the Senate but will not be on the agenda for Monday March 20, which is the 36th legislative day of the year.