Honor trial verdict finds fourth-year student guilty

Random student jury panel finds fourth-year College student Jason Smith guilty of lying in conjunction with LASE 151 class assignment

After deliberating for more than four hours at an open honor trial, a random student jury found fourth-year College student Jason Smith guilty of lying yesterday.

The charges were brought forth by third-year College student Mary Siegel, incoming vice chair for investigations, and second-year College student Michelle Fox. Both Siegel and Fox acted as facilitators in Smith’s LASE 151 class, “Honor and Ethics Everyday Life,” in the past fall semester.

The class was a pass/fail one-credit course that met once a week in small sections.

According to testimony given by Siegel, the primary witness during the trial, LASE 151 was a class of about 40 students divided into three small sections, which were led by student facilitators. Fox and Siegel, who were two of the six students chosen to facilitate the small sections, led the section of 10 students of which Smith was a part.

During the semester, the class was assigned to turn in an informal one- to two-page reflection paper Oct. 1 that discussed “what you were feeling about the class” Siegel said during the trial.

Smith did not turn in the assignment and then was absent the next class meeting Oct. 8, she said. Smith e-mailed Siegel Oct. 9, explaining that his absence was a result of a family emergency. According to statements made by the counsel for the accused, Smith’s aunt was incarcerated during that time and Smith went home to help his family.

Jeff Smith, brother of the accused and the fourth witness at the trial, said there was “a lot of fallout that needed to be attended to.”
Smith again did not attend the class Oct. 15, however, and still had not turned in his reflection paper, Siegel said in her testimony.
According to the facts of the trial presented by the counsel for the accused, Smith did not e-mail the facilitators about this second absence and “accepted that it was unexcused.”

The entire LASE 151 class met in the Honor Committee’s trial room on the fourth floor Newcomb Oct. 22 for a guest speaker and Siegel and Fox decided to pull Smith aside to discuss his absences and reflection paper.

During this time, Smith told Siegel and Fox that one of his absences was because his wallet had been stolen and that he had to go to the Bank of America to replace his credit cards and that the other absence was because he had a paper due in another class the next week and chose to miss LASE 151 to work on that assignment, Siegel said.

While Smith provided explanations for his absences, he did not discuss why he had not turned his reflection paper in yet. Additionally, he did not mention the family emergency that he had discussed previously in an e-mail.

When asked why he did not mention this excuse, he said he “didn’t want to reveal the extent of the nature of the family emergency.”

According to the class’ syllabus, one-third of the student’s grades in the class came from participation and attendance and each student was allowed one unexcused absence and all other absences had to be discussed with Siegel or Fox.

Though it was never clarified with Smith whether his absences were excused or not, Smith still expressed interest in passing the class, Siegel said during the trial.

“Jason kept telling us he wanted to put forth effort” so that he could pass the class, Siegel said.

As a result, Siegel and Fox assigned Smith an alternative assignment that consisted of two papers that were each to be three to four pages in length.

Of the two papers, one of them was supposed to discuss the importance of the class, the purpose of coming to class and Smith’s reasons for missing the class twice.

Siegel and Fox assigned the papers to be due Oct. 29.

On that particular day, Siegel and Fox chose to cancel class to give their students the opportunity to work on their group projects for the class and Smith was given the option of submitting his papers either via e-mail or to Siegel’s mailbox in Newcomb.

By Nov. 3, half a week after Smith’s modified due date, Siegel said she was sitting on the Lawn that day when Smith walked by her. Siegel told Smith that she still had not received his two papers. According to Siegel’s testimony, Smith told her he had already written the papers, they were on his flash drive and he would e-mail them to Siegel as soon as he got out of class.

During the trial, Smith said he did not “particularly remember” telling Siegel his papers were on a flash drive. Both of the papers were turned in size-14 font and not in Times New Roman font, Siegel claimed. Though there were no references on the class’ syllabus about paper formatting, Siegel said she decided to “standardize” them into size 12 Times New Roman font.

Once Siegel changed the size of the font, neither of the papers met the length requirements assigned to Smith by Siegel and Fox. When Fox asked why Smith had used the font that he did, Smith responded that his “computer does that.”

Fox said Smith’s papers had “little to no effort put into them,” and that it was obvious he was “just doing the bare minimum.”

Siegel and Fox asked Smith when he actually wrote the two papers and he said he had written each of them before their original due date of Oct. 29. Siegel said she then checked the date created function on the papers and saw that each of the papers were typed Nov. 3, the day Smith turned them in.

In his paper, Smith attributed his absences to being sick and working to finish another assignment; he did not mention the family emergency or his allegedly lost wallet. Fox then held a meeting with Smith Nov. 11 to confront him about this discrepancy. Fox told Smith that she and Siegel felt he was being dishonest with them.

Smith said he had completed the papers Oct. 27 or 28, before his Oct. 29 deadline, but that he had written the papers by hand because of a “nasty virus” on his computer. It was not until Nov. 3 around 7 p.m., after he had run into Siegel on the Lawn, that he typed the papers on a computer in the library.

Smith said Siegel’s e-mail only asked him to clarify when he wrote the papers and not when he typed the papers and admitted that he could see how his comments “could be perceived as deceiving.”

According to Fox’s testimony, Smith seemed to treat the situation very casually and said, “Hey, I’m a nice guy,” when she met with him.
In addition to speaking with Smith, Fox asked him to bring his laptop to the meeting so she could check and see when the papers were typed on the laptop. Neither of the papers were on Smith’s laptop.

Both Siegel and Fox said they decided Smith would not receive credit for the course, but were unsure as to whether they should bring him up on honor charges. Siegel decided to print out all of the e-mails and create a timeline of the actions in question.

“After really looking at that on Nov. 15, we decided we would go forward with honor charges,” Siegel said.

Siegel said she believed something like this “would change the way students interact with students” if left unchallenged, as Siegel and Fox were acting in the role of teachers for the class.

“A degree from the University of Virginia has a certain significance,” Fox said during the trial, and “leaving this to go unnoticed” would diminish that.

Smith said the comments he made to Siegel may have been “misleading, but I didn’t mislead her intentionally.”

During his testimony, Smith said he had not yet enrolled in LASE 151 before its first class session and had thus not received the syllabus when it was passed out to the large group during the first day of class. He did, however, receive a copy of the syllabus during the first small section class and said he “glanced over it.”

Siegel said the first couple of weeks of the class “were dedicated just to honor,” and despite the fact that the honor code was not discussed in the LASE 151 syllabus and that Smith missed the first day of class, honor was “discussed during the first couple of weeks of class” and Smith was aware of it, Siegel said.

In the end, the evidence brought forth against Smith was enough for jury members to convict.

Third-year Law student Robert Baldwin, who attended the trial, however, expressed some concern about Siegel’s role within the Honor Committee and about how that role could have influenced jury members to find Smith guilty.

“When that first community witness was testifying, she [Siegel] very clearly knew the language of the procedure ... and in my mind I thought she must be a counselor or be on the committee,” Baldwin said.

Current Committee Chair Jess Huang, however, said she does not believe Siegel’s role in honor had any impact on the trial.

“I think this is just a great example of a student who really wanted to enforce the standards of the community of trust and brought it up for another student panel to decide,” Huang said in an interview later Sunday night.

To be found guilty of an honor offense, four-fifths of a jury has to find a student guilty of act and intent and a simple majority has to find him guilty of non-triviality. Smith chose a random student jury that consisted of 11 undergraduate students and one graduate student; the jury yesterday included five first-year students, three second-year students, three third-year students and one Darden student.

After the first break, one jury member was asked to leave after she was caught reading a book under her desk during the trial.

According to the Committee’s bylaws, if he so chooses, Smith can appeal the jury’s decision either on the grounds of new evidence or good cause.

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