Monday, October 27, 2008

Federal Charges for Allegedly Changing Grades

The Acting U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Florida has charged students for allegedly changing grades in the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) computer system. A press release states in part,

"According to the indictment, the conspirators caused the grades of approximately 90 FAMU students to be changed, effecting changes in approximately 650 grades overall. The grade change increased the grade point averages of the majority of students whose grades were changed, which in turn, made these students eligible for financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and loans to which these students would not otherwise have been entitled."

The charges include conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the computer fraud statute (18 USC 1030), and aggravated identity theft.   Is this an example of overcriminalization/overfederalization?


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Suggested defense: Claim they're out of state students trying to create fraudulent voter registrations who accidentally hacked into the wrong system. That doesn't seem to bother Justice at all.

Posted by: bgates | Oct 28, 2008 11:49:28 AM

The short answer is no; and I'd like to see more prosecutions of this nature.

Over-criminalization is charging a nine-year old kid with sexual harassment, or arresting grade school kids for behaving

Young adults at university who cheat, are in fact (potentially) stealing the futures of those who have worked within the rules and are rewarding themselves for their illegal efforts.

Posted by: Robert | Oct 28, 2008 11:56:52 AM

Well since the goal of the grade changes was to get money; most likely from the Federal Government in the area of the loans at least, then no it probably is not over criminalization or overfederalization. If the funds gained were local, or state, then there might be a case of over federalization. If the computers used to change the grades were in a different state in Florida, would that have an affect?

Posted by: Dagpotter | Oct 28, 2008 11:59:50 AM

Nothing "Over" here, as a matter of fact, expel them. (They may already have been, and I respect that if so).

This is not a violent crime so I don't feel jail is due, however "manufacturing" your credentials is heinous, and speaks to the character of the cowards involved. I would rather have flunked out than cheat. I think almost a whole generation has grown up thinking cheating is just fine. What if this had been med school? Would you want a doctor who got an F, or a B?
Ok, so it's only "Ag" so who cares? Do you want your vet, who treats your livelihood (farm animals) to be an F or a B?

Make an example of them.

Posted by: tck | Oct 28, 2008 12:02:10 PM

Interesting. Read the press release. It's obviously fraud if these students followed up changing the grades with applying for financial aid, and getting it (usually federal-backed student loans, Pell grants, etc.).

If students can be charged with this, what about University personnel who change grades so that they can keep getting financial aid?

Posted by: Br549 | Oct 28, 2008 12:11:55 PM

"Is this an example of overcriminalization/overfederalization?"


Are you high? Are you suggesting that this be legal, or that it should be overlooked?

Posted by: dualdiagnosis | Oct 28, 2008 1:00:17 PM

At first blush I said yes it is overcriminalization, but when I thought that no, these students did it to defraud the taxpayers of money to which they would otherwise not been entitled, I thought that yes it was appropriate.

Posted by: Will T. Power | Oct 28, 2008 1:19:06 PM

Since (if?) the motive was to steal federal funds, I don't think so. However, I'm not a lawyer, I just read law blogs and stay at Holiday Inn Express.

Posted by: Donna B. | Oct 28, 2008 1:23:19 PM

If they can prove the point was to gain access to federal money, I might see some kind of federal lying-to-get-our-money charges -- maybe even the wire fraud, since the idea there is "I convince you to send me money." Without that, it makes no sense to me.

I mean, isn't this exactly what expulsion, loss of academic credit, etc. was designed to handle?

Posted by: Sarah | Oct 28, 2008 2:48:16 PM

Over-criminalization? No, this behavior cheats honest students and taxpayers. Over-federalization? I'm not a lawyer, but I think so. Where's the Constitutional mandate for Congress to criminalize intrastate fraud? This is Florida's business, except to the extent that there was an attempt to obtain federal funds, in which case it should be prosecuted under a narrower, Constitutional, statute.

Posted by: Nathan | Oct 28, 2008 3:22:51 PM

Throw the (big heavy federal government) book at them.

Posted by: Nonny O'hara | Oct 28, 2008 7:32:47 PM

It depends on if they actually applied for federal funds.

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