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Kim T. Stephens on Title IX, Student Conduct, and Academic Dishonesty

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Did you know that criminal defense attorney Kim T. Stephens represents individuals being investigated or punished by student judiciary boards at universities throughout Georgia?

In the last month, Mr. Stephens has obtained a temporary protective order to prevent a law student being suspended without due process from an Atlanta law school. This aggressive action on behalf of Mr. Stephens’ client kept the student in school, enabled him to take his exams, and earn credit for his semester’s work. Mr. Stephens also recently had an expulsion at UGA overturned and reduced to a suspension, again allowing the student concerned to return to school and complete their degree. The student’s relieved parent wrote the following review of Mr. Stephens’ services:
“I talked to a lot of attorneys when my college aged child was expelled for academic dishonesty and the appeal deadline was only days away. Kim Stephens was the only attorney willing to help. With his knowledge and experience, he was able to get the expulsion turned to suspension and my child was readmitted to UGA and will now be able to accomplish educational and career goals. Without him, that would not have happened. Thank you Mr. Stephens.”
If you, or your child, are facing an investigation or a hearing with the student judiciary at a college in Georgia, you need professional advice and a powerful defense.

Call Kim T. Stephens today and let him protect your future.

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Mental Health and Criminal Justice

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Lately, I have received a number of calls from families needing representation for a loved one who is suffering from some level of mental illness and was arrested after the family called for help during an episode. From dementia to schizophrenia, there are many illnesses which affect the mind as well as the body and cause people to behave in ways that are not only contrary to their true nature but also potentially pose a risk to those around them, and it has come to my attention, more than ever in recent months, that the resources for families suffering in this way are few, even for those with health insurance and access to medical care.

One layer of the problem is that individuals in the grip of dementia, addiction, schizophrenia, or psychosis rarely recognize that they are ill and need help. The very nature of their illness prevents them from seeing their situation accurately, so they resist the attempts by family and friends to get help. When their illness causes them to become disruptive or violent, spouses, partners, children, parents, have very few options open to them. Often, they call the police. The police respond, but they too have limited resources for dealing with crises that result from mental health problems, and the end result of a 911 call is usually an arrest, which does not help the person suffering and results in additional expenses and burdens for their family. This is not a criticism of law enforcement who are usually doing everything within their power to keep people safe, but they are not trained mental health professionals, and therefore cannot be expected to perform medical diagnosis when responding to a call.

The following are resources/options open to people who believe a loved one is suffering from mental health problems:

  • Any medical doctor can sign an involuntary committal order for an individual the doctor feels is suffering from mental illness. The problem here is that often people can maintain a façade of wellness for a short amount of time, e.g. the fifteen minutes spent at a doctor’s office, so even when a loved one manages to get them to a doctor, often there is not sufficient evidence for the doctor to sign an involuntary committal order.
  • Family can file paperwork for an involuntary committal, and under certain circumstances, a judge of superior or probate court can order involuntary treatment for people proved to be suffering from mental illness or addiction. Unfortunately, many people don’t feel comfortable with this kind of paperwork and cannot afford to hire an attorney to help them. Even if they overcome this obstacle, proving the illness can be difficult, and this type of action can really affect relationships within the family.
  • In crisis situations the law allows a judge to order a person to be apprehended by law enforcement on the basis of a two-party affidavit and delivered to a hospital for diagnosis by medical personal to determine whether treatment is necessary. Again, this process could be intimidating to some people, and even for those who would feel confidant or comfortable utilizing this measure, during a crisis there would rarely be time to complete affidavits and contact judges.
  • If a police officer observes a crime being committed by a person the officer reasonably believes is mentally ill and in need of treatment, the officer has the discretion to take the person to be evaluated instead of arresting him/her. My experience has been that this rarely happens, even when the family states that they believe their loved one is suffering from mental illness. This is not a failing on the part of law enforcement, but rather reflects a lack of awareness and/or training in mental health.

Even when any of the above measures are successfully taken, it is extraordinarily difficult for the treating facility to detain an individual without their consent. The patient can/will only be detained for up to five days, unless the chief medical officer submits a petition to the appropriate court supported by two independent medical doctors or one doctor and one psychologist recommending involuntary inpatient treatment. This rarely happens, even for people suffering from severe mental illness. The root of this reluctance to involuntarily commit people on the word of their relatives stems from a time when people abused the system to rid themselves of unwanted/unruly children, spouses, relatives. This is a very real concern and not a system we would ever want to revive. However, the current system does not work and does not provide adequate support for those suffering from mental illness or the loved ones who are trying to take care of them.

I am not a supporter of big government, and I rarely advocate for more governmental control, but the mental health system in our great country needs reimagining, revising, reworking. We need to be more aware that people are truly suffering, often in poverty, often isolated, often lonely, and increasingly desperate. Providing support for these people and their families is not only the right thing to do, it would also make our society safer.  A large part of my law practice is criminal defense, thus a significant portion of my income depends on people being arrested and charged with crimes; I would welcome, however, the day that families and individuals affected by mental illness can avoid criminal charges by getting appropriate help for their condition before their illness leads to arrest.

Kim T. Stephens

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Comparing the Due Process Provided Students for MIP/UPA/DUI/Academic Dishonesty to the Lack of Due Process Provided to Students Charged With Sexual Misconduct

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sitting-in-jail-slideComparing the Due Process Provided Students for MIP/UPA/DUI/Academic Dishonesty to the Lack of Due Process Provided to Students Charged With Sexual Misconduct

At the University of Georgia, a student charged with a violation of the UGA’s Code of Conduct for things like Underage Possession of Alcohol (MIP), hazing, theft, selling illegal drugs on campus, and damaging UGA property are entitled to a relatively high level of due process.  Specifically, an accused student must be

(1) given formal notice of the charges against them;

(2) advised that no inference of responsibility will be drawn if they remain silent;

(3) advised of the procedures that will be used to decide the charges;

(4) advised that they may have an advisor;

(5) informed of all “potential witnesses and any information that may be presented against” them including a list of witnesses and a chance to view the evidence to be presented;

(6) presumed innocent;

(7) given a live hearing before three neutral decision makers (two University Student Judiciary Members and one Administrative Panel/Faculty/Staff member);

(8) given a recorded or transcribed copy of any hearing; and,

(9) permitted to question his or her accuser and other witnesses involved in the hearing.

The accused student in these Student Conduct hearings is allowed to have an advisor that can be an attorney, a member of the Student Judiciary, or any other person.  The advisor, attorney or otherwise, may not speak for the accused student, something attorney Kim Stephens believes violates the accused student’s United States and Georgia Constitutional rights to due process, but can provide preparation, guidance and support throughout the hearing.

Similarly, at the University of Georgia, a student accused of violating the Honor Code, A Culture of Honor, by plagiarizing, copying a classmates test answers, lying to a professor, or even trying his or her best to submit responses or prove attendance via apps like TopHat that suffer frequent technical problems, is entitled to due process.  Accused students in academic dishonesty hearings are

(1) allowed to complete all required academic work, have the work evaluated and graded;

(2) given formal notice of the complaint(s) that have been made against them;

(3) allowed to participate in a facilitated discussion, i.e. a mediation, which includes the instructor who filed the complaint, the student, and a Facilitator.  The purpose of the of the “facilitated discussion” is to provide a fair and focused discussion between all parties involved about what may have occurred. The instructor(s) who reported the matter, the student(s) believed to have violated the policy, and the Facilitator are the only participants in a Facilitated Discussion. These Discussions may not be recorded.  The instructor and student may reach an agreement about the matter and, if dishonesty is involved, may determine the appropriate consequence(s);

(4) if no resolution is agreed upon, the matter will be forwarded to a Continued Discussion with an Academic Honesty Panel that will determine the outcome of the allegation. The Academic Honesty Panel is, at its heart, a hearing on the merits of the instructor’s complaint.  The Panel is comprised of two faculty members and three student members who decide whether the instructor can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the conduct alleged in the complaint is true and is a violation of the Honor Code, and, if a violation is found, determines the appropriate punishment;

(5) written notice of the allegations being made against them;

(6) copies of all evidence to be used by the accusing instructors against the students including the instructor(s)’ statement and supporting documents and witnesses;

(7) a chance to provide a written statement and provide supporting evidence and documents to the Panel before and during the Continued Discussion;

(8) a chance to question the accusing instructor and all other witnesses and evidence being used during the Continued Discussion to show the accused student violated the Honor Code.

The accused students in these Continued Discussion hearings are allowed to have an advisor that can be an attorney or any other person.  The advisor, attorney or otherwise, may not speak for the accused student, again something attorney Kim Stephens believes violates the accused student’s United States and Georgia Constitutional rights to due process, but can provide guidance and support throughout the Continued Discussion.

Now, compare these relatively high levels of due process provided to accused student’s cases to cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct, a political “hot button” issue:

(1) The accused student will be provided with notice of the existence of a complaint being filed against him or her but is not told the identity of the person filing the complaint or the specific accusations made by the accuser;

(2) The accused student may be immediately suspended from the University and barred from campus while the investigation is ongoing;

(3) The accused student may be removed from UGA’s student housing and dormitories immediately and, thus, forfeiting all moneys paid for housing and dining;

(4) The accuser and the accused student are provided with a copy of the EOO “non-discrimination” policy which allows the student to “blindly” provide information to an EOO investigator, provide evidence to the investigator that may or may not apply to the accusations being made, and submit himself or herself to questioning by the investigator;

(5) The accused student is NEVER provided with the identity of witnesses against him or statements made by such witnesses;

(6) The accused student is NEVER provided with the identity of favorable, i.e. exculpatory, witnesses or statements made by them;

(7) The EOO investigator only discloses information to others involved in the case on a “need to know basis;”

(8) The EOO procedures now state that the investigator’s interviews “constitute the hearing.”

So, prior to being expelled from the University of Georgia for alleged sexual misconduct, an accused student NEVER receives a formal charging document expressly telling him what offense he or she is charged with committing, NEVER receives a list of witnesses for or against him, is NEVER allowed to review statements or evidence used to determine his guilt or violation of the EOO policies, is NEVER allowed a hearing before a panel of three or more hearing panelists to determine his culpability, is NEVER allowed to question the accuser in his or her case, is NEVER allowed to question other witnesses or evidence used against him or her to show guilt or a violation of the EOO policies, is NEVER allowed to present evidence in his or her defense to a panel of impartial panelists rather than just to the investigating EOO officer, and is NEVER allowed to provide a statement to an impartial hearing panel.  Apparently, the University of Georgia believes that students charged with Underage Possession of Alcohol/MIP deserve greater due process than students charged with serious offenses like rape.

UGA expels students, usually young men, through a process that provides absolutely no due process at all.  Does that sound fair?  Is that due process?

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7 Finalist Named for Georgia Supreme Court

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ATLANTA  —
The state’s Judicial Nominating Commission said in a statement Friday that it has sent seven names to the governor for a vacancy on the Georgia Supreme Court that will come in July with the retirement of Chief Justice George Carley.  The list submitted to the governor includes: Cynthia J. Becker, Keith Blackwell, Lisa Branch, Michael Brown, Billy Ray, Tillman Self and Ben Studdard. 

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