Why do some professors falsely accuse plagiarism

Cheated on the exam? This is what you can do if you are accused of attempting deception!

by Tim Reichel

Hand on heart: Have you ever tried to take a look at your neighbour's note in the exam?

Attempts at deception are manifold; from cheaters to plagiarism to people who write other people's exams with forged student IDs out of "friendship" or for a fee ...

But it only gets really annoying if you haven't done anything illegal and you are wrongly accused of such fraud.

In this expert interview with lawyer Lars Brettschneider, you will find out what exactly an attempted deception is and how you can proceed if you are wrongly accused of deception.


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Hello Mr. Brettschneider, as a specialist attorney for administrative law with a focus on examination law, you are very familiar with legal questions in your studies - for general understanding: What is an attempt at deception?

According to current jurisprudence, an attempt at deception is understood to mean that the examinee pretends to have performed an examination independently according to regular conditions, while he has actually used unauthorized assistance.


Can you give us some examples? What types of attempts at deception are there?

Well, first of all the use of unauthorized aids, such as the classic cheat sheet or unauthorized markings in aids approved for testing, but also the involvement of third parties.

The latter is of course particularly important for housework, but can also play a role in exams if the examinee makes unauthorized phone calls with third parties from the toilet, i.e. uses the unintended telephone joker. Copying someone at the table is of course an attempt to deceive, as is the production of plagiarism in scientific work.

The latter has become particularly explosive since the Guttenberg affair and is being followed closely by universities. The production of plagiarism is understood to mean that passages or thoughts from external sources are taken over into one's own work without this being adequately indicated by a footnote and - if taken over literally - quotation marks.

Ultimately, however, there is no conclusive answer to the question of the types of attempts at deception. The creativity of the examinees is always astonishing, so that new acts of deception constantly come my way.


What are the typical consequences if students cheat during an exam? Is there a general guideline for this or does each university decide on the consequences for itself?

There is no generally applicable sanction system. Rather, the respective examination regulations regulate which sanctions apply to which attempts at cheating. Depending on the examination regulations and the severity of the act of deception, this ranges from mere warnings to the order to repeat the examination, the declaration of the examination performance concerned as unsatisfactory to the declaration of the entire examination as failed. In isolated cases it can even happen that the test object is excluded from a possibly still possible repeat test.

Individual university laws also stipulate that the attempt to deceive constitutes an administrative offense that can also be punished with a fine.


What can students do if they are wrongly accused of attempting deception? What are the legal options?

If a candidate is wrongly accused of attempting to cheat, one must first differentiate:

Before one of the above-mentioned sanctions is imposed, the candidate must first be given the opportunity to comment on the matter. At this stage, the examinee can therefore present his view of things and possibly straighten out the suspicion that has arisen.

If one of the above-mentioned sanctions still occurs, the candidate can initially object to this decision by the examination authority - depending on national law - or file a lawsuit immediately. The matter is then examined by another department of the administration or, in the case of a complaint, by the court.

However, it is important that the authority can rely on the evidence of the first appearance. This means that if certain facts are present, it may conclude that there has been an attempt to cheat, e.g. usually if the examinee takes unauthorized aids into the examination. It is then up to the examinee to prove that he did not really want to cheat, e.g. the markings in the text were not made to deceive, but were not removed in the course of the course and only inadvertently. In practice, this turns out to be extremely difficult.


How exactly should students proceed in this situation? Please describe the individual steps.

From my point of view, the following procedure is usually recommended when confronted with accusations of attempted deception:

  • Creation of your own protocol of the course of events so that no details are forgotten.
  • Clarification as to whether there are any witnesses for the incident who can contribute to your own discharge.
  • No own opinion without legal advice (so that one might not worsen the situation with well-intentioned, but ultimately rather bad statements from a legal point of view).


When is it worth hiring a lawyer?

Following on from what has been said above, in my opinion it is always worthwhile to hire a lawyer if you are accused of attempting deception. Similar to criminal proceedings, in order to achieve optimal results it is imperative that there is sufficient distance and objectivity to the allegations made. The person affected usually does not have this.

So it often happens that well-meaning statements by the person concerned tend to worsen the situation as a result, as things may be presented that are not yet known to the authority (what the lawyer can find out through an inspection of the files), or motives are mentioned that In the opinion of the examinee, they should contribute to the relief, but in the case law they are more likely to be seen as evidence of the intent to deceive or as evidence of a particular gravity of the misconduct.

Against this background, the examinee is urgently advised not to make any statements himself but to hire a lawyer to represent himself. However, care should be taken to ensure that the lawyer in question is specialized in examination law, as otherwise the necessary specialist knowledge of examination law is missing.


What are the risks if students challenge an attempt at deception?

The only risk of the contesting examinee is the cost risk. In the event of failure, he will have to pay legal fees and court costs in legal proceedings. Here, the examinee should ask his lawyer in the initial interview and be instructed about the specific cost risk.


Is there a curious case (regarding attempted deception) that you will never forget? Please describe briefly.

I once represented a client who was accused of attempting deception in the oral examination of the second legal exam.

You have to know that the oral exam consists of an examination interview and a so-called file presentation beforehand. For this, the examinees receive an extract from the file one hour before the start of the examination, which they can then edit for an hour in order to present the content and their own solution.

In the invitation to the oral examination it was pointed out that the examinees were allowed to use unlined paper to take notes, which they had to bring with them.

Since the client only had such paper loose and wanted to prevent it from being creased, he put it in his college pad for transport. He then unpacked his documents in the preparation room. He took the notebook out of his pocket to take the papers out of it.

Then he wanted to put the pad back in the bag and put it in the space provided for it, which was not at his place of work. In this situation, however, the supervisor took a closer look at the block and found that it still contained notes from the legal clerkship, which the client had no longer thought of.

The client was thereupon accused of attempting to deceive by carrying unauthorized aids with him for deception, and the presentation of the file was rated as insufficient.

The problem with this case lay in the fact that the authority relied on the evidence of first appearances (whoever has unauthorized aids with them wants to use them) and it was up to us to prove the opposite. The main question here was whether the preparation of the workplace is already covered by this prima facie evidence.

The conclusion from this case, however, is: Every examinee should strictly ensure that he only takes things with him to the exam (especially in the exam room) that are allowed. Everything else should stay at home or at least not be taken into the exam room.


In the interview

Lawyer and specialist lawyer Lars Brettschneider

Lars Brettschneider is a specialist lawyer for administrative law with a focus on examination law. He is our specialist for questions on the topics of examination law, university law and school law. Lars Brettschneider has represented students throughout Germany in legal matters for many years.


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In this article we showed you that attempts at deception are manifold and can lead to serious consequences for you and your studies. Our legal expert explained in simple terms what you can do in the event of an accusation.

In the event of an attempt to cheat, the examinee will seek unauthorized assistance and demonstrate that an examination has been performed independently according to regular conditions. This applies to all examinations such as exams, oral exams, seminar papers or theses - all examinations that you are confronted with at the university.

The consequences and sanctions can be as varied as the attempts at deception themselves: from a simple warning to immediate de-registration and a criminal complaint for fraud.

If you are wrongly accused of attempting to deceive, it is advisable to consult a specialized lawyer. This way, you don't run the risk of making the situation worse by saying or doing something.


Image: © Ryan McGuire / gratisography.com