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Campus Sexual Assault Investigations: Are We Going For Speed or Accuracy?

By Monica Matias:

In August 2018, University of Wisconsin (UW) wide receiver, Quintez Cephus, was charged with two counts of sexual assault after two women reported that Cephus had sex with them while they were too intoxicated to consent.[1] Cephus was suspended from the team indefinitely and now awaits trial where he could face a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.[2] Cephus maintains that the interactions were consensual, and says he is looking forward to getting a chance to clear his name.[3] Apart from the criminal proceeding Cephus will have to take part in, he also faces severe sanctions from UW, who will be conducting a separate disciplinary investigation.[4]


In an unexpected move, Cephus is now suing the university claiming that their separate investigation violates his Fifth Amendment rights because he can’t participate in the school investigation without potentially implicating himself in the criminal proceedings.[5] The Fifth Amendment protects a person’s right against self-incrimination.[6] In other words, “pleading the Fifth” allows an individual to withhold testimony because doing so could possibly lead to information that could be used against him or her during a legal proceeding. Not only does the Fifth Amendment provide this right with respect to criminal proceedings, but it has been found to extend to civil cases as well.[7] Although you can “plead the Fifth” in a civil case, the benefits are far less because the jury is allowed to draw an inference that the information you are withholding would negatively impact the case at hand.[8]


A school’s disciplinary hearing process is similar to that of a civil case, and the U.S. Supreme Court held in the case of Goss v. Lopez that students facing school hearings have a right to due process.[9] Unfortunately, that right to due process doesn’t mean that a student facing that school hearing can just “plead the Fifth” and be excused of the school’s disciplinary process. If a student “pleads the Fifth” in a school investigation in order to avoid saying anything that could negatively affect him or her in a criminal proceeding, the student is potentially increasing his or her chances of being found guilty in the school proceeding.[10]


For Quintez Cephus, choosing to protect his right to not self-incriminate means that he is likely accepting the expected punishment of expulsion from UW. He won’t be able to defend himself and that will most likely mean that he will be found guilty by the school, despite the fact that he has yet to be proven guilty in a courtroom. In other words, the system will be depriving him of an education without giving him a chance to defend himself. Because the school wants to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, they will not be waiting on the outcome of the criminal proceeding ruling on his guilt or innocence. They will conduct their own process and reach their own conclusions separate from those of the criminal court. Many are now left wondering if the school is potentially trading a fair and just process for the chance to obtain a speedy and arguably unfair decision.


Whether Cephus is guilty of sexual assault or not is a matter best left to the criminal court to decide. If he is found guilty, the punishment will most likely include a lengthy prison sentence, which would automatically exclude Cephus from having any contact with the UW community and effectively rebut the need for a school hearing. While it is in the school’s best interest to resolve the matter quickly, they shouldn’t just ignore all notions of fairness in their pursuit of a speedy decision. Allegations of sexual assault are serious, and efforts to discover the truth and reach a fair and just decision shouldn’t be bypassed by a school’s internal disciplinary process. Every person deserves the right to tell their side of a story, especially when the implications of not having that opportunity are as serious as losing an education and serving a prison sentence. Sexual assault is a heinous crime – one that deserves serious punishment – and in our legal system, a sentence is ordered only after a person has been given a proper chance to defend their name and they have been found guilty of committing the act.



[1] Cooper, Sam, Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus to stand trial on sexual assault charges, Yahoo Sports (Sep. 11, 2018), https://sports.yahoo.com/wisconsin-wr-quintez-cephus-stand-trial-sexual-assault-charges-231517655.html.

[2] Associated Press, Judge denies motion to dismiss Quintez Cephus’ sexual assault charges, ESPN (Sep. 11, 2018), http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/24648086/quintez-cephus-wisconsin-ordered-trial-sexual-assault-charges

[3] Id.

[4] Rill, Jake, Suspended Wisconsin Player Suing School for Violating Constitutional Rights, Saturday Down South (Oct. 10, 2018), https://www.saturdaydownsouth.com/sec-football/suspended-wisconsin-player-suing-school-for-violating-constitutional-rights/

[5] Bauer-Wolf, Jeremy, Compelled to Speak Out Against Yourself, Inside Higher Ed (Oct. 12, 2018), https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/10/12/football-player-sues-uw-madison-calling-question-fifth-amendment-rights-title-ix.

[6] Fifth Amendment Right Against Self Incrimination, FindLaw, https://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-rights/fifth-amendment-right-against-self-incrimination.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Kennerly, Maxwell S., Pleading the Fifth and Adverse Inferences In Civil Litigation, Litigation and Trial (Apr. 3, 2013), https://www.litigationandtrial.com/2013/04/articles/attorney/pleading-the-fifth-adverse-inferences/.

[9] Stolley Persky, Anna, A Painful Case: Do Parents Need Lawyers for School Disciplinary Hearings, ABA Journal (Jul. 1 2011), http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/a_painful_case_do_parents_need_lawyers_for_school_disciplinary_hearings/?icn=most_read

[10] Bauer-Wolf, Jeremy, Compelled to Speak Out Against Yourself, Inside Higher Ed (Oct. 12, 2018), https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/10/12/football-player-sues-uw-madison-calling-question-fifth-amendment-rights-title-ix.

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