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.

I Didn’t Cheat: When you are charged with Academic Dishonesty.

You are writing a paper for a college or high school course. You are overworked and haven’t slept in days. Your friend, who took the same course last year, helpfully offers you their A paper. Or maybe you find exactly what you are looking for in an article. You use a lot of the same language from the article, but through oversight or otherwise, neglect to attribute your source. In either case, you make a few adjustments and submit the paper as your own work.

Or perhaps you are taking an open book exam in class. You open your Blackberry only to discover you have inadvertently broken the school’s rules. Or the proctor has caught you peeking at someone else’s paper.

Whatever the circumstances, you find your school career is threatened with a charge of academic dishonesty. What can you do?

A charge of academic dishonesty can be difficult to fight, but there may be some hope. A good attorney will start with a careful reading of the school’s student manuals. These manuals are like a contract between you and the school. They spell out the procedures the school should follow. Maybe you were notified of your offense, but were not given an opportunity for a hearing as promised in the manual. Maybe the nature of your offense is ambiguous and the school rules do not prohibit the conduct.

A skillful lawyer can help you determine whether you have a basis to fight the charge. Even if you were knowingly dishonest and have already confessed, an attorney may work to reduce the punishment. Maybe you were suffering from excessively traumatic personally circumstances at the time and have an otherwise stellar record for honesty. Maybe the punishment is unduly severe.

If you do receive notice that you are charged with dishonesty, consult an attorney who specializes in school law right away. It is important to act quickly to preserve all your rights. Do not attempt to handle the matter yourself without counsel. You may inadvertently cut yourself off from a valid defense if you should say the wrong thing. 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.