NEW ILLINOIS CRIMINAL LAW ON SEXTING OFFENSES GOES EASIER ON TEENS

As everyone knows, the teenage years are not easy what with raging hormones and immature judgment. So you were dismayed, but not completely surprised, when your son reacted to a breakup with his girlfriend by texting her nude photo to his best friends. Now he is charged with a sexting offense. Luckily for him, however, Illinois has just implemented a new, more lenient law as of January 1, 2011 for those under age 17 who commit sexting offenses.

Sexting is the electronic transmission of nudity or obscene photos to another party. Even texting nude pictures of yourself can be a crime. Before the new law, prosecutors were forced to charge young offenders under stricter pornography laws that could have resulted in a lifetime designation as a sex offender. The new law tries to address the problems that arise when the development of technology outpaces the development of the adolescent brain.

Under the new law, any minor under age 17 who knowingly electronically transmits materials depicting nudity or other sexual conduct is subject to a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,500 fine. If you are under 17 and you knowingly request another minor to sext for you, you can be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If you post the image on the Internet or a website for at least 24 hours with the intent of injuring another’s reputation or causing emotional distress, the charge stiffens to a Class 4 felony, punishable by imprisonment for 1 to 3 years.

The new law also permits a Judge to order an offender into a diversion program, such as counseling, that would look at the problems, which led to the sexting offense. If a minor commits a second violation, the Court can forbid the defendant the use of any electronic telecommunications device for up to six months other than for emergencies.

If you have questions about sexting or know someone who is facing sexting charges in Illinois, please feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

“MY SCHOOL WON’T LET ME HAVE AN ATTORNEY!”: WHEN YOU ARE ACCUSED OF VIOLATING THE STUDENT CODE OF CONDUCT

You just received the notice. Your professor is turning you on an alleged charge of plagiarism, based on the results of an on-line tool. You know you didn’t do it. Or if there is a match, it was purely accidental. You want to fight the charge. But you looked up your school’s student code of conduct, and the policy manual specifically states that you cannot have an attorney.

Are you really stuck handling this on your own? What can you do?

Colleges and universities vary on the level of participation that an attorney can assume in an academic discipline proceeding. Some schools allow full participation with an attorney present at a hearing conducted much like a courtroom trial. Some schools allow an attorney to attend the hearing, but only for the purpose of whispering suggestions into the student’s ear and not to speak. Some schools do not permit an attorney at any time.

If you have read that you cannot have an attorney, then you have already taken an important first step by examining your school’s policy and procedures. The student policy manual or code of conduct acts like a contract between you and the school. A careful reading of the manual will help you determine how your offense is defined as well as what procedure the school should follow. But even though you are not allowed to have an attorney during the disciplinary process, you may still seek advice. An attorney can help guide you to the best strategy for combating the charges against you.

Furthermore, while an attorney may not be able to appear at a hearing, an attorney can help you draft any written responses that you need to submit to your school.

If you have been charged with an academic offense or have any questions about this topic, please feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or by emailing matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.
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‘I DIDN’T ASK FOR THESE!”: WHEN YOU ARE CHARGED WITH POSSESSING FORBIDDEN STUDY MATERIALS

You never even asked for it! All you did was obtain certain study materials from the professor as required for your course. Unbeknownst to you, however, the professor inadvertently left a copy of the classes’ upcoming exam tucked inside. You probably should have immediately returned the exam or at least told the professor. But you didn’t. Now, even though it wasn’t your mistake, the school has charged you with academic dishonesty.

Some schools consider that gaining access to test materials ahead of time allows a student to obtain an unfair advantage. Other offenses under this category can include stealing or defacing library materials, keeping a test that was supposed to be returned to the professor or otherwise interfering with another student’s work. Even though you may have received the forbidden material accidentally and may not have relied on it, schools often presume guilt if you did not immediately report what you found.

What can you do? If you are charged with academic dishonesty, there is still hope. An experienced attorney can help you determine the best avenue for a defense on procedural or substantive grounds. Did the school follow its own student policy manual procedures when charging you with the offense? The policy manual is like a contract between you and the school, and the school is largely bound by it.

Is the mere possession of the materials enough to sanction you? If not, can you make a convincing case that you did not rely on the materials or that you did not know you had them until it was too late? Should you have known the materials were unauthorized?

Even if you actually used the forbidden materials, you may still qualify for a less severe penalty. Perhaps you are generally of good character, but were under exceptional stress. Perhaps if you inadvertently obtained the materials, a letter of reprimand should be sufficient.

If you are charged with academic dishonesty, consult an attorney who practices school law right away. It is important to act quickly to preserve your rights. By attempting to explain yourself to the school, you may inadvertently cut yourself off from a valid defense by digging yourself into a hole. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact me at 847-568-0160 or email me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.
for advice.

“THEY SHOULD LET MY CHILD GRADUATE!”: WHEN YOUR CHILD IS BANNED FROM ATTENDING GRADUATION OR THE PROM.

Your son or daughter was suffering from a bad case of senioritis. So they joined in on a prank at school. Their prank did cause some trouble and expense. And you certainly believe they should accept responsibility. But still, you think the school is going overboard in barring your student from attending graduation after they had worked so hard to get there, just because of this one minor incident.

What can you do?

If you have just received notice of a discipline offense, then you are best advised to contact an attorney to guide you through the discipline procedure and help present your child’s case in the best possible light. An attorney can work with you to insure that the school follows its own guidelines procedurally and in how the school both defines and punishes the offense. Can the school prove your child committed the offense?

Avoid making statements to the school until you have consulted an attorney. While you may think your child’s explanation for his behavior is perfectly understandable, the school may not agree, and you may end up with a greater penalty taken against your child. Even worse, depending on the nature of the offense, your child may also be subject to criminal prosecution. Any statements you or your child makes to the school could end up as police evidence.

Even if you have already been through the discipline procedure, it may not be too late. Schools often have a lot of discretion about the penalties they impose. Depending on the offense, a skillful attorney may be able to negotiate with the school into allowing your student to attend graduation, or even the prom.

No matter where you are in the procedure, you and your student are best advised not to discuss this situation with anyone either in person, on the phone or electronically. Any Facebook discussions of the event could end up as evidence against your child.

It is imperative that you explore your options with a qualified attorney. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

“IT JUST POPPED OUT!”: WHEN YOU ARE ACCUSED OF HATE SPEECH

You really can’t stand this one student at your school. You think he is obnoxious. One day, the two of you got into a screaming match. In the heat of the moment, you called him a certain stereotypically derogatory name. The next thing you know, your college or high school has notified you that you are being charged with hate speech and might be suspended.

If the alleged hate speech occurred while committing a crime, you may even be liable for increased penalties as a hate crime. Maybe you spray-painted a name on the side of someone’s door, or you repeatedly called or texted someone, while using derogatory terms about that person’s race, religion, disability, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Under Illinois law, you can be charged with a felony, receive additional fines and still be sued in civil court.

What can you do?

First and foremost, do not make any statements to the police or the school, before consulting an attorney. Any attempt to explain or justify your actions may be used against you and jeopardize your defense. What sounds like a truthful explanation to you may only dig you in deeper.

You should also not discuss this situation with anyone either in person, on the phone or electronically. Any texting or Facebook discussions of the event could end up as evidence in a suspension hearing or in a court of law.

To fight the suspension, an experienced attorney can help review your school’s policy manual. How is your offense defined in the policy manual? Does the school distinguish between events on and off school grounds? Did the school follow its own procedures in citing you? Are the proposed sanctions against you too severe under the school’s own guidelines?

In a criminal case, the State has to prove that you are guilty of a hate crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Can the State prove that it was you who spray-painted the house or sent the text messages? Was your crime really based on the perceived or actual race, gender, religion, disability, ethnicity or sexual orientation of the victim?

Are your words really even hate speech? One person’s idea of hate speech might be constitutionally protected expression in another context. The very definition of hate speech can be vague and elusive.

Even if the evidence against you seems overwhelming, an attorney may help you work out a reduced punishment or a plea to a lesser charge.

A qualified attorney can best help you evaluate your options and develop a strategy for your case. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.
for advice.

“BUT I WASN’T ON CAMPUS!”: WHEN YOU ARE DISCIPLINED AT COLLEGE FOR AN OFF-CAMPUS CRIMINAL CHARGE

You had a little too much fun one night at the pub downtown. As you struggled to drive home, you blew a stop sign and next thing you knew, you were pulled over for DUI. Or maybe you were involved in some off-campus drug sales, or you shoplifted at the local grocer’s. In any event, you now face criminal charges, but still you hope to continue your studies and get on with your life.

Then you receive an unpleasant surprise. The University is charging you with violating their student code. While it may seem that what you do off-campus should stay off campus, many schools have extended their reach to off-campus behavior. Some schools prohibit all alcohol, drugs or even cigarettes, no matter where you used them. Showing up for class under the influence may be enough to get you expelled. Some schools’ codes even contain a catch-all provision, which prohibits violating any state, federal, or local law

What can you do? First, you need to determine if your offense falls within the university’s guidelines. An experienced attorney can help navigate the language of the Student Code to determine if the school has grounds to charge you. Even if they do, perhaps the school failed to follow its own procedural guidelines. Did they give you the proper notice? Are you getting the safeguards promised in the student code? An attorney can also help evaluate the evidence against you. If the criminal charges are later dismissed or you are found not guilty, the school may lack the proof necessary to show that you actually committed the violation.

If you find yourself charged with a crime or notified of a discipline offense, contact an attorney immediately. Do not speak to anyone or discuss your situation electronically on any chat room or Facebook-type pages. Any statements you make can later be used against you or can lock you out of a possible defense in both the criminal and university cases. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

“I DIDN’T MAKE IT UP!”: WHEN YOU ARE ACCUSED OF FABRICATION

You were dealing with a lot of personal stuff this college semester, so when the deadline for your lab assignment sprung up, you figured you’d just take the data off a website and pass it off as your own. You didn’t think the professor would find out, or that it would hurt this one time. After all, you would have done the work if not for that girlfriend or sick relative.

But the professor had more savvy than you expected. Now you are facing charges of academic dishonesty stemming from fabrication or falsification of data on an assignment. If disciplined, you may be failed from the class, suspended or worse, expelled.

What can you do? Before you give your side of the story to a seemingly sympathetic professor or administrator, you are advised to consult an attorney. What seems like a reasonable explanation to you might be just enough for an administrator to rule against you.

Whatever you do, don’t start talking about the situation with others, who might in turn become the school’s witnesses. Many Universities or Colleges strongly encourage students to expose others who seem to be violating the academic dishonesty rules, no matter how flimsy the evidence may be. You should also refrain from mentioning the charges on electronic media such as texting, email or Facebook-type pages.

If you are charged with fabrication, there is still hope. An experienced attorney can help you determine the best avenue for a defense on procedural or substantive grounds. Did the school follow its own student policy manual procedures when charging you with the offense? The policy manual is like a contract between you and the school, and you should attempt to bind them to it.

Is it clear that you actually fabricated your data? Maybe you really did your own work but utilized some outside information without at all intending to present the material as your own data.

Even if you already admitted that you completely made up your data, you may still qualify for a less severe penalty. Perhaps you are generally of good character, but were under exceptional stress. Perhaps expulsion is too extreme a punishment for the degree of your offense.

If you are charged with fabrication, falsification or academic dishonesty, consult an attorney who practices school law right away. It is important to act quickly to preserve your rights. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact me at 847-568-0160 or email me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

“BUT I DIDN’T PLAGIARIZE!”: WHEN YOU ARE CHARGED WITH ACADEMIC DISHONESTY

There are few student vices that a college or university professor detests more than plagiarism. Plagiarism can be loosely defined as passing off someone else’s work as your own without proper attribution. The work may be that of another student or an author off the web. Some schools even prohibit using your own work that you may have completed for another course without the current instructor’s consent. Some schools consider paraphrasing a form of plagiarism.

To catch students who plagiarize, teachers can submit student papers to websites such as plagiarism.com to find sentence by sentence matches from the internet.
Once a student is caught, the penalties may be severe. You may be failed from the class or suspended. Some schools have a zero tolerance policy that could lead to expulsion.

What can you do? If you are charged with plagiarism, there is still hope. An experienced attorney can help you determine the best avenue for a defense on procedural or substantive grounds. Did the school follow its own student policy manual procedures when charging you with the offense? The policy manual is like a contract between you and the school, and the school is largely bound by it.

Is it clear that what you submitted actually constituted plagiarism? The definition of plagiarism can be a slippery slope. At what point does a paraphrase become an unauthorized use of someone else’s work? If you use one sentence off the web, but cite the source elsewhere in the paper, have you plagiarized?

Even if you admit you lifted the majority of your paper off the web, you may still qualify for a less severe penalty. Perhaps you are generally of good character, but were under exceptional stress. Perhaps expulsion is too extreme for a minor degree of plagiarism.

If you are charged with plagiarism or academic dishonesty, consult an attorney who practices school law right away. It is important to act quickly to preserve your rights. By attempting to explain yourself to the school, you may inadvertently cut yourself off from a valid defense by digging yourself into a hole. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact me at 847-568-0160 or email me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com. for advice.

CAN THEY DO THAT? SCHOOL SEARCHES OF STUDENTS FOR DRUGS AND WEAPONS

Your high school student just got into the worst trouble of his life. School security searched his locker. After finding some narcotics, the principal demanded the keys to your 17-year-old son’s car and then proceeded to rip apart your trunk. That’s when the principal found a weapon: your husband’s favorite camping knife. Now your son faces expulsion from school. Worse yet, the school turned the matter over to the police, and your son is now being charged with a crime.

While you don’t condone the use of drugs and the Swiss knife was an oversight, you think the school overreacted. Anyway, doesn’t your son have any rights? And what can you do now?

While Illinois schools are bound by the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, they may have greater leeway in conducting a search than your local police. For one thing, a school official need not obtain a search warrant provided he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that the search will turn up evidence that your child has violated school rules. For another, because lockers are considered school property, the school is allowed to randomly search your child’s locker.

But this doesn’t mean that a school can get away with everything. The school cannot search your car without your permission if your child is a minor. If your child is an adult, he or she must consent to the search unless the school obtains a warrant. The school must also point to specific facts, which led officials to infer that your child had done something wrong.

If your child is being disciplined and/or prosecuted as a result of a search or seizure, there may still be hope. In Illinois, a school generally cannot suspend or expel your child without some form of hearing. Your are also entitled to a hearing in the criminal or juvenile court. An attorney can help evaluate your child’s case in order to determine the best defense strategy before the school and the criminal court. Did the school have the specific, articulated facts required to justify the search? Can the search of the car be suppressed because the school lacked the appropriate consent? Does your child have exclusive access to his locker or could someone else have slipped the drugs into it?

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in a criminal or juvenile court, you and your child should not communicate with anyone but an attorney about the incident, whether by speaking, texting or emailing. Statements made to friends could end up as evidence against your child. Equally important, you and your child should refrain from discussing the incident on any Facebook, Myspace or similar pages. Any references to the incident should be removed.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.

BUT MY CHILD DIDN’T START IT: WHEN YOUR CHILD IS FACING SUSPENSION, EXPULSION OR JUVENILE COURT CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR FIGHTING

You’ve been hearing complaints from your high school student about some other kids at school. They keep harassing him, and the school doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. While you don’t condone violence, you really can’t blame your child for not wanting to take it anymore. But now your student is facing academic discipline: a suspension and even possibly expulsion and/or juvenile court charges for fighting.

If your child is expelled, you will have to deal with finding an alternative place for them to go to school. This can be costly. An expulsion could also affect your child’s choice of college. Even a suspension can cause difficulties with later life choices. If your child gets in trouble at school a second time, the penalty might be that much more severe because of the initial incident.

In some cases, your child may be charged in juvenile court. Your child could end up with a juvenile criminal record.

What can you do? If the incident is charged in juvenile court, your child will be entitled to a hearing before a judge. At the high school level, your child cannot lose his or her right to attend school without first receiving procedural due process. In most cases, your student is entitled to a hearing, although not always before the suspension takes effect. In many districts, only the school board may expel your student, and you may have a right to a hearing at that stage as well.

An experienced attorney can help evaluate your child’s case to determine the best strategy to defend your child. Did the school follow its own procedural rules? Was your child an innocent bystander or acting in self defense? Even if your child started the fight, an attorney can help judge the strength of the evidence against them and can help challenge the severity of the penalty. Maybe your school has some alternative conflict resolution program.

If there is a juvenile court case, an attorney can evaluate how to proceed. You may wish to take the matter to hearing in hopes of getting the charges dismissed. If the evidence is extremely strong against your child, it might be advisable for the attorney to work out a plea arrangement.

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in juvenile court, you and your child should not communicate with anyone but an attorney about the incident, whether by speaking, texting or emailing. Statements made to friends could end up as evidence against your child. Equally important, you and your child should refrain from discussing the incident on any Facebook, Myspace or similar pages. Any references to the incident should be removed.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.