Two UNC students can be arrested for the same crime, go through the same Honor Court proceedings and receive completely different punishments.
Since 2011, Chapel Hill Police, Carrboro Police and UNC Department of Public Safety have arrested dozens of students every year for driving while impaired.
Even though a DWI is a non-academic crime, students who are caught by one of the three local law enforcement agencies should appear before the University’s Honor Court, according to the Honor Code and Honor Court officials.
And because of the way the Honor Court’s sanctions are structured, students arrested and charged with DWI can receive punishments that run from a semester of probation to community service to a semesterlong suspension.
Shafali Jalota, Honor Court chairperson, said the court strives to give out the most equitable punishment instead of what would be the most equal punishment.
“I would contend that if you give everyone the same sanction that it ultimately results in a different outcome of sanction,” said Jalota, who identified financial aid recipients and international students as two groups that would be punished more by cookie-cutter sanctions.
Jalota said the court does not take precedent into account when deciding on a sanction, instead ruling on a case-by-case basis.
“We are not required, and it is not in our scope, to consider what the outcomes of previous cases were,” she said.
One student was arrested and charged with a DWI by Chapel Hill police in fall 2013 — his senior year. He said he was unable to find a job after he left UNC because his diploma was held for a semester, even though he had completed his degree by the time of the ruling.
“I went to commencement, my name was in the bulletin, I defended my thesis — but I wasn’t a graduate of UNC until December instead of May,” said the former student, who asked that his name not be used.
The former student was unable to apply to graduate schools as a senior because a hold was put on his transcript.
He moved back home and waited tables, unable to apply for high-level jobs until December because he was still not a college graduate.
“You can’t have anything done without precedent — that’s not how legal systems work,” the former student said.
UNC senior Christine, who asked that her last name not be used, lost her appeal Wednesday night. She said the court ruled that all her work this semester will no longer count because of her August 2015 DWI.
Christine said she felt the court did not take into consideration the work she had done since she was arrested.
“I started going to AA, I get on-campus treatment, I did 30 hours of out-patient treatment,” she said.
Christine said she is an alcoholic and believed the work she had put into maintaining her sobriety would sway the court to change its original sanction of a suspension for this semester to probation.
“I said that a suspension was more harmful than beneficial for me,” said Christine, whose routine of going to class and studying helped her stay sober.
Still, the appeal panel ruled in favor of the original sanction Wednesday, she said. She will now lose the 12 hours she was enrolled in this semester and will not be able to graduate in August like she had planned.
“I will most likely have to graduate next spring and reapply for financial aid and reapply to the University and all of that mess,” she said.
Others have found the court responsive to their situations.
Senior Israel Moleiro, who was arrested and charged with DWI by Chapel Hill Police in September 2014, said the Honor Court took into account that he was graduating in May and had a job lined up after graduation. He received a semesterlong probation from the court.
“I would have had to come back for another semester and would have lost my job offer if I was suspended. I was glad they took that into consideration,” he said. He noted that his lawyer, Matthew Suczynski, helped.
Despite working with the Honor Court, Suczynski is still critical of the court’s choice not to use precedent.
“You get very disparate punishments at the trial level,” he said.
Suczynski, a defense attorney in Chapel Hill, said he thought the boundaries for Honor Court cases have been going farther out into Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
“I see them going after more and more off-campus things,” he said.
The Honor Code lists driving while impaired under the “Student Conduct Adversely Affecting Members of the University Community or the University” section. Jalota said as more students and staff migrate into areas like Carrboro, the University community extends as well.
“A student is still a member of the University (away from campus),” she said.
Student Attorney General Frank Jiang said in an email that the Office of Student Conduct, which is not run by students, receives police bulletins daily and runs the name of every arrested and cited person through the University directory to identify students.
He said in his experience, the Honor Court has never misidentified a student because the arrest reports come with other identifying information. He also said he does not know of any student arrested by one of the three law enforcement agencies for DWI that was not brought to the Honor Court.
Senior Briana Carter just might be a first.
The peace, war and defense major is graduating in May and was arrested by Chapel Hill Police for speeding and driving while impaired during the fall semester.
She said she has not heard from the Honor Court since her arrest.
“I was surprised I didn’t hear anything ... for whatever reason, it’s just never come back to me.”