‘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.

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