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Academic Honor Code

What to Do If You are Accused of an Academic Honor Code Violation

By April 5, 2022November 7th, 2022No Comments

What do you do if your son or daughter has been accused of an academic code violation at their college or university?  Not so long ago, academic honor code violations consisted primarily of college students being accused of using “paper banks” to buy other people’s papers to use as their own or – in a throwback to elementary school days – copying answers from a neighboring classmate during an exam.  That was then.  This is now.

How Students Get Accused of Plagiarism by Plagiarism Detection Software

Today’s college student is most likely to be accused of plagiarism because their professor uses some kind of “plagiarism software” like Turnitin to “catch” cheaters by detecting matches in the student’s paper with other internet published work.  Parents may be shocked that a professor has found any percentage of match in their student’s paper by running it through plagiarism checking software.

The thought being “Why would any of your paper be taken from someone else’s work?”  But as Turnitn itself repeatedly emphasizes (and the universities repeatedly ignore):

There is a very distinct difference between what Turnitin flags as matching text (aka: similarity index) and plagiarism. Turnitin will highlight ANY matching material in a paper—even if it is properly quoted and cited. Just because it appears as unoriginal does not mean it is plagiarized; it just means that the material matches something in the Turnitin databases.

However, since nearly everything is now on the internet, you can see what the problem is with software applications that work by simply comparing words for matches.  Or rather, you can see what the problem is if professors and universities blindly rely on such matches instead of actually reading and analyzing their student’s work to determine if the student has plagiarized.

How do Students Get Accused of Cheating on Exams with Smart Phones?

New technology also creates new types of violations, so the ubiquitous use of smart phones gives rise in turn to a proliferation of smart phone aided violations.  The most prevalent of these new smart phone academic violations is the accusation that a student has used their phone during an exam.

The college and university’s theory being why bother copying from your neighbor when you can just access the answer online?  Online access not only allows students to “use the encyclopedia” (or more likely “Wikipedia”) to answer questions during the exam but even potentially to access their notes from class as well as the professor’s notes posted on online in systems like “Blackboard” and other online tutoring services like Chegg – Chegg in particular has been involved in a number of large scale cheating scandals where students sought answers to exams from Chegg during the exam.

Since most schools have rules that prohibit bringing your smartphone into an exam or having it out, a parent might naturally ask: “Why would you have your phone out during the exam?”  While this is an understandable reaction to hearing that your student has been accused of cheating during an exam – the parent may want to consider that a more reasonable question to ask a college student (or high school student) is “When do you NOT have your phone out?”  The answer to that (“never”) answers the question why so many students end up being accused of violating the prohibition against having their smart phones out during exams.

How to Defend and Protect Students Against Academic Honor Code Violation Accusations

The best defense is a good offense and I recommend using the UGH system:

U: Understand

G: Gather

H: Habitualize


  1. Understand your professor’s requirements.  Do they have a preferred method of citation?  A preferred style manual?  Many students do not even know that different kinds of papers in different subject have wholly different styles of citation.  While you do not have to master each one you do need to know which form of citation your professor (and school) require.
  2. Understand the accusation.  If you are accused of an academic violation be sure you carefully read the accusation, so you know what is being challenged.
  3. Understand the process.  Academics do not specialize in writing rules and laws so most university conduct and academic codes are hard to understand.  Sometimes the people applying them do not even fully understand them.  Here is where having a college student defense attorney assist you can be critical.


  1. Gather the evidence in your case.  Emails, notes, and drafts of your work in plagiarism and test cases can be critical evidence.
  2. Gathering may require professional help.  Often times, electronic evidence may appear to be lost through deletion but professional computer forensic experts can recover much of that information.  But you will only want to use such an expert when they are under the direction of a lawyer working for you because otherwise the expert’s work will not be privileged and confidential.


  1. Habitualize yourself to routines that protect against problems with plagiarism.  Cite as you go. Do not wait until the end of your paper when you are up against a deadline to formalize your citations.  Cite as you research and as you draft.
  2. Habitualize yourself to leaving your cellphone behind.  Leave it in your room.  At most put it inside your backpack and put the backpack somewhere safe but out of reach.

Following the UGH method can help minimize the chances of being accused and maximize your chances at a successful defense.  But, most importantly, don’t take such accusations lightly.  Your academic records are your professional records.  Protect them.

If you are Accused of an Academic Honor Code Violation, contact DC Student Defense, today.

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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