As a college or university student, your career and future hinge on your performance and your ability to advance academically. Unfortunately, an institute of higher learning functions like a bureaucracy—loads of paperwork and seemingly endless “red tape” to get the simplest things done. Sometimes a lost bit of paperwork causes your class registration to be delayed—and maybe a class you needed fills up while you're waiting. Maybe the only thing stopping your financial aid from coming through is a signature on a piece of paper lost in a pile on someone's desk—and the university is sending you collection notices in the meantime.
It can be easy at times like these for a student to be tempted to “hasten things along.” If the only thing gumming up the works or hindering your progress is a missing document someone's signature—why not just create the document or the signature? Or, if a single grade on your transcript is dropping your GPA below the honors threshold—what could be the harm in “fixing” that one grade?
As simple as it seems to do something like this, what we've just described is an act of forgery. Since colleges are themselves held to stringent standards of accuracy, they take any act of falsifying documents or forged signatures as a serious offense. Regardless of a student's motives for doing so, being accused of forgery can result in serious penalties that may include expulsion and the revoking of your degree—even if your academic record has been flawless, and even if you've never been in trouble before. Furthermore, if the forgery was of an official document, you may be even be facing felony charges outside of the school.
If you're a student accused of forgery—or if you're a parent of an accused student—there's too much at stake to face these charges alone. Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience as an attorney-advisor for students accused of forgery and other types of academic misconduct. Your chances of a positive outcome go up considerably with a legal ally who understands the school disciplinary process and can represent your interests.
What Is Forgery?
Forgery simply means “false writing.” From a legal standpoint—which is how the school looks at it—forgery refers to creating, altering, or using “false writing” for fraudulent purposes. Since our educational systems operate by documentation (i.e., a “paper trail”), it's critical for the documents to be legitimate and trustworthy. A forged document—or a forged signature on a document—effectively breaks this trust because it represents something that it is not, and therefore evokes a response that would otherwise not be warranted or earned.
Between the stunning accuracy of printers these days and the availability of documents online, it has become easier over the years (and more of a temptation) for students to commit forgery. Common examples of forgery in a college/university setting may include:
- Falsifying administrative documents (e.g., registration or admission records, academic transcripts, student employment, etc.)
- Falsifying financial aid documents
- Creating fake identification (e.g., driver license, school IDs) to enroll in classes unlawfully
- Forging a check to pay for tuition, fees, etc.
- Forging a signature on any official document
How Colleges and Universities Identify Forgeries
The most obvious indicator to a school that they are dealing with forged documents is when two copies of the same document surface—one legitimate and one forged (most likely with slight or subtle alterations). It then becomes a matter of determining which document is the original and which is the forgery.
Additionally, just as modern technology has made it easier to commit forgery, modern technology has also become better at detecting forgeries. If school officials can't easily detect a forged document by visual comparison, there are software programs available that can identify subtle differences. Once a forgery is identified, it's easier than you think to trace the document to the student—especially if that student directly benefits from the falsified information.
What Should I Do if I Am Accused of Forgery by the School?
Whether or not you did anything that could be construed as forgery—and schools certainly can point the finger in the wrong direction—you are likely entering the disciplinary process at a sharp disadvantage. Each school has a clear, established protocol for addressing misconduct issues—a process that generally includes an investigation and probably a hearing before a disciplinary board. The school almost always understands this process better than the student, which gives them the upper hand in determining the outcome. Furthermore, school disciplinary proceedings are not like the court system, where the student is considered innocent until proven guilty. Rather, many schools use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning they only need to demonstrate a likelihood of greater than 50 percent that you committed the act.
As an alternative to going into these proceedings on your own, hiring an experienced attorney-advisor can go a long way to helping to rescue your academic career against allegations of forgery. A good attorney-advisor will:
- Investigate the facts and evaluate the claims for accuracy (if the facts are wrong, the verdict will likely be more severe)
- Help you understand the specific disciplinary process of the school, so you are aware of your rights
- Gather evidence and witnesses in your favor
- Help keep the school accountable to their own policies and rules
- Bring to light any extenuating circumstances that may work in your favor
Ultimately, students and parents who hire an attorney-advisor are far more likely to obtain a more favorable outcome, from reduced sanctions to disproving the claims entirely. For many students, this additional support becomes a lifeline that ultimately saves their careers.
Joseph D. Lento is recognized nationwide for his expertise in student discipline cases. He has helped defend thousands of students against accusations of forgery, falsification, cheating, and other allegations of misconduct. Don't let a momentary lapse in judgment or a misunderstanding derail your future. Call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 for a consultation.