The plea deal outraged many, as is becoming a common theme. They hear the accusations and, because they believe, demand an outcome that may bear no connection with reality. Maybe the accusations aren’t true. Maybe they aren’t provable. Maybe the witness is awful or the gaps in evidence too deep to ignore. Maybe there are other reasons, which a prosecutor and judge must consider even if the unduly passionate do not, that go into the decision to offer the plea.
In the trenches, decisions get made, whether people who have never stepped foot in the well like it or not. And so the deal was cut with Jacob Anderson.
A former fraternity president at Baylor University who was accused of raping a female student in 2016 will avoid jail time and will not have to register as a sex offender, under a plea deal approved on Monday in Waco, Tex.
The agreement, which has roiled Waco and drawn howls of outrage nationally, calls for the accused man, Jacob Anderson, 23, to serve three years of probation, pay a $400 fine and attend counseling; his plea may never show up on his record.
Anderson pleaded no contest. Maybe it was good deal. Maybe it was a bad deal, but the best the prosecution could hope to get. Post-plea posturing rarely provides much guidance as to the real reasons behind a plea when it’s poorly received. Then, it’s just a matter of covering one’s butt and deflecting outrage.*
But this plea deal took a different turn than that of Brock Turner and others, as word of it spread across the interwebs.
More than 18,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the University of Texas at Dallas to remove Jacob W. Anderson, a former Baylor student who received no jail time as part of a controversial plea deal in a rape case this week.
“The students at UT Dallas have a right to protection from predators like Anderson,” the petition states. “He submitted a plea of no contest and was sentenced to deferred probation, and will not be made to register as a sex offender. That being the case, the school has a responsibility to remove him from this new potential hunting ground. #BaylorRapistJacobAnderson.”
This presents a significant problem for UT, where Anderson is now a senior. They can’t throw him out because the internet is outraged and 18,000 (or million, for that matter) random people signed a petition. Sure, the unduly passionate believe, as is their wont, that the school has “a responsibility to remove him,” except it not only doesn’t, but can’t.
Putting aside the minor details, like whether he is guilty, or whether his trial would have resulted in an acquittal, despite his conviction in the Court of Twitter, colleges can’t expel students because online petitions demand so.
UT Dallas posted a statement on social media.
“The safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff are of the utmost importance to the University,” the statement said. “While federal laws limit what we can address publicly, we are aware of the online petition and the community’s concern. The University administration is currently reviewing the situation.”
What is meant by “reviewing the situation” is unclear. Maybe UT Dallas is biding its time until the mob turns its attention to the next outrage squirrel. Maybe it’s considering hiring Pinkertons to follow Anderson around. Maybe it’s considering unlawfully expelling him and taking whatever hit his lawsuit will bring.
But this turn of attention to the new college creates another issue. No college is going to take a transfer student with a transcript marked “sex offender,” but students facing prosecution or Title IX complaint were well-advised to transfer immediately, before proceedings concluded, so that there might still be a chance at completing their education.
Given the petition, the pressure on UT Dallas to do something, even when there is nothing they can lawfully do, the terrible press they’re getting, this is very likely to cause colleges to reassess how they deal with transfer applications, perhaps to include a question as to whether there are any complaints pending against a student, and reject them not for what they did, but merely for the fact of an accusation pending.
Whether this plea deal given, and taken by, Anderson was good or bad isn’t a matter to be argued. Sure, the woman who accused him of rape tells a horrifying story, but it’s untested and believing it merely because that’s what she says may be good enough for the mob, but not for the courts. But will colleges have the fortitude to turn the mob away? Will it be easier to just rid themselves of this meddlesome student and take the hit? Will colleges going forward eliminate any risk by refusing students based on accusations alone?
And just to add one more problem to the mix, if Anderson remains at UT, will some other student decide the rapist shouldn’t get away with it and decide to engage in a bit of
antifa vigilante justice? If it’s okay to punch a Nazi, why not a rapist?
Update: UT Dallas has made its decision.
Without naming Anderson, UT Dallas President Richard C. Benson said a student admitted two years ago is no longer allowed on campus or at the school after the university was alerted to the student’s “legal history,” according to a statement posted Wednesday to Twitter.
“There is nothing more important at UT Dallas than the safety and security of our students,” Benson said. “Two years ago we admitted a student without knowing their legal history. Based on recent court action and other information over the last several days, that student will not participate in UTD commencement activities, will not attend UT Dallas graduate school and will not be present on campus as a student or as a guest.”
He can sue. He will win. He will not get his life back.
*The prosecutor in the case, Hilary LaBorde, gave a statement afterward:
“Conflicting evidence and statements exist in this case, making the original allegation difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Ms. LaBorde’s statement said, according to The Star-Telegram. “As a prosecutor, my goal is no more victims. I believe that is best accomplished when there is a consequence rather than an acquittal. This offender is now on felony probation and will receive sex offender treatment, a result which was not guaranteed, nor likely, had we gone to trial.”
The family said that LaBorde told them “the case against Anderson was ‘cut and dry’ and he would ‘definitely be convicted.'”