For your lies only

The public nature of the Johnathan Perkins trial offered a window into the flaws of the honor system

BECAUSE of the confidential nature of Honor Committee cases, the University's single sanction policy is almost always discussed in ways that do not involve specific events or people.

For example, the single sanction has often been criticized given that its harsh consequence could potentially result in a guilty student being acquitted. In such cases, expulsion is deemed too strong a punishment for some wrongdoings, and the hypothetical offender gets away scot-free. Recently, though, outsiders were granted information about an Honor Committee case from accusation to verdict and were able to witness a concrete example of a failure to use the power of the single sanction.

In a widely publicized fiasco last April, University law student Johnathan Perkins wrote a letter to the editor to the Virginia Law Weekly alleging that members of the University Police had racially profiled him. But, after his claim was investigated, Perkins admitted that he had fabricated the material of his accusation. As a result of his actions, Perkins was accused of committing an honor offense.

Perkins' case gave a special view of how the honor system operates. Ordinarily, the result of Perkins' honor trial would have been confidential information. In this instance, however, Perkins waived his confidentiality right and Law School Dean Paul Mahoney issued a statement in which he explained that Perkins was acquitted by the jury hearing his case and was allowed to graduate with no penalties, other than the University providing "a statement regarding the honor charges and underlying circumstances to any state bar to which he applies."

While revealing the Honor Committee's decision gave some degree of closure to the case, it openly displayed the egregiously wrong decision that was made regarding Perkins' violations. The verdict of this honor case did not result in the single sanction, although it should have.

Admittedly, for some honor violations, the single sanction is too harsh. The Honor Committee needs to develop reduced punishments to ensure that less serious honor breaches are dealt with appropriately.

Nevertheless, major violations should be cause for expulsion or degree revocation. Perkins should have unquestionably received the latter punishment for his false claims.\nPerkins' phony accusations were well above the level of significance which acts of lying, cheating or stealing must meet in order for the single sanction to be applied. The true motive behind his allegations may never be fully understood, although Perkins claimed the purpose of his false police report was to bring attention to the topic of police misbehavior. Yet no matter his intentions, Perkins' behavior represents a terribly indifferent attitude. There are alternative ways by which he could have brought about discussion on the topic of racial profiling by the police, and those ways do not include libeling those that had done no wrong.

In fact, by untruthfully playing the race card, Perkins may have acted as a detriment to his stated cause. It is precisely people like Perkins who make future allegations of police wrongdoing carry less weight, even if such claims are actually true.

In addition to receiving no honor sentence, Perkins is lucky that no criminal charges were filed against him for filing a false police report. He selfishly attempted to push forward his own agenda at the expense of an University organization. Even though he did not specifically identify any officers and his story broke down quickly after it was investigated, Perkins showed he was willing to discredit those whose job it is to keep University students safe.

His lies had the potential to negatively affect the University's ability to protect its community. Moreover, Perkins exhibited a lack of integrity, honesty and morality while being trained for a field that demands such characteristics. Had there been no investigation, he would have graduated from law school while fraudulently maintaining his status as a victim of an event that never occurred. For that, he should have had his degree rescinded.

The University lauds its honor code and Honor Committee as representing student self-governance at its finest. For the most part, they are commendable facets of the school. Unfortunately, the conclusion of Jonathan Perkins' honor experience is not to be commended, and because of the transparency of the case the honor system dropped the ball in a very public way.

Alex Yahanda's column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at a.yahanda@cavalierdaily.com.

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