NEWS- Free at last: Honor trial clears UVA student

It all started with some underage drinking, and before it ended, former UVA student Stephanie Garrison had been barred from receiving her diploma. Her quest for vindication ended September 10, however, with an acquittal in a rare open honor trial.

While underage possession of alcohol typically doesn't raise any eyebrows, this particular case did. Garrison's 18-month ordeal stemmed from an incident in March 2005 when she was 20.

After she pled guilty to violating a "standard of conduct," the University Judiciary Committee imposed three sanctions: two ride-along shifts with SafeRide, attendance at an alcohol education class, and a session at the University's center for Counseling and Psychological Services.

Psychological counseling for underage alcohol? Gavin Reddick, a member of the University Judiciary Committee, says the initial punishment was not unusual.

Because of alleged scheduling conflicts, Garrison took her SafeRides after the deadline and met with a different counselor than the one assigned. As for alcohol education, she testified that she thought that by attending the 12-hour Virginia Alcohol Safety Program instead of the assigned five-hour campus "Choices" class, she met the spirit of the punishment. She was wrong.

Reddick became suspicious about Garrison's compliance after finding several inconsistencies with the documenting paperwork, and he turned the case over to the Honor Committee.

Garrison was found guilty in a January 22 trial of lying about fulfilling the punishments. In May, she was allowed to walk the Lawn at graduation– but not to collect her diploma.

The September 10 trial was an appeal of January's verdict. After deliberating for two and a half hours Sunday, the jury of 12 students found Garrison, now 21 and living in Washington D.C., guilty of the "act and intent to lie," but found that the instance of lying was not serious, trial chair A-J Aronstein said.

"I've never seen another case where honor was so all about honor's sake and not what the students themselves are about," said Garrison's co-counsel Ben Sachs.

Garrison and her family say they are relieved by the verdict, but their bitterness is evident. "It's sad to say, but I don't think we'll ever be back at UVA again," says her mother, Sarita.

The Honor Committee will inform the registrar's office of the outcome of the trial and Garrison's diploma will be released, according to honor committee chair Alison Tramba.