Hazing at Northwestern Football? – How fraternity, sorority and even team sport “initiation” requirements can lead to criminal felony charges in New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Recently, Northwestern fired its football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, after alleged hazing incidents that occurred amongst his football players. The school parted with the longtime coach after an outside law firm determined that while there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Fitzgerald knew about the hazing, there were significant opportunities to learn about it. The decision to terminate the coach remains highly controversial but presents an opportunity to explain how college hazing can result in criminal charges.
Many college students want to join clubs which have informal “hazing” rules which require them to perform tasks or other often embarrassing events. This isn’t obviously school endorsed and flies below the school administration’s radar despite most of them knowing that it occurs on and off campus
Where do hazing incidents typically occur?
Hazing can occur at the high school and the college level but we often see or hear about in the latter. Most of these incidents involve the excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs and even a combination of both. It also appears that most of these incidents involved male clubs or fraternities. Students often want to gain acceptance and therefore put themselves at risk. In recent years, students at Bowling Green University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Cornell University and Penn State have died due to alcohol poisoning.
Does it matter if the student charged with hazing never intended to cause harm or death of another student?
All of these incidents were obviously and tragically avoidable. None of those students charged in connections with these deaths, intended to cause the death of their fellow students. Intent to cause death, however, is not an element in a hazing charge. The prosecution must only establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant causes, coerces, or otherwise induces another person to engage in a behavior subjects the person (victim) to a risk of emotional or physical harm or is otherwise deleterious to the person’s health.
Fraternities & Sororities – Are there any benefits?
There are clear advantages for student who choose to make “Greek Life” a part of their college experience despite criticisms from some who believes that it diverts a student’s focus and hinders academic performance.
These fraternities and sororities offer students a network of friends while in school and connections that last a lifetime. Even respected publications like Forbes magazine believe it’s a smart move. It is estimated that as many as 9 million students across the country join these organization each year! One study found that over 50% of students seeking admission to a club or team experienced some form of hazing.
Individuals who have gone to have exceptional professional careers in the military, law, medicine, and politics often cite their fraternity and sorority experience as memorable. Many often still refer to their “brothers or sisters” as positive influences in their lives.
Allegedly only 3 US presidents haven’t been members of fraternities. In addition to networking, these groups often help college student hone and develop organizational, management and interpersonal skills. These are especially important in today’s world of social media and text messages often hinder face to face communications.
Despite the benefits of these groups, the “pledge” process remains a tradition. While many may believe that forcing an individual to perform task or acts is perfectly acceptable, Pennsylvania, along with other states, like New Jersey, has placed limits on what is permissible and legal.
Administrative & Criminal Consequences
While a college or University can obviously suspend or even expel a student who takes the “pledging” or process too far, hazing is actually a crime. In Pennsylvania, hazing, a misdemeanor of the 3rd degree, is defined as “any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student or which willfully destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in, any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by an institution of higher
In addition, Pennsylvania requires each college or university to provide or adopt a program for the enforcement of the Commonwealth’s anti-hazing law. The State permits such penalties to include fines, the withholding of diplomas or transcripts, imposition of probation, suspension or dismissal from the school.
44 of the 50 states have anti-hazing laws in place, the strength and breadth of the laws vary significantly. Pennsylvania and New Jersey have adopted the Timothy Piazza’s anti hazing law following that student’s death on the Penn State Campus.
Lifelong Consequences for Hazing Crimes
Criminal charges, however, unlike a University’s sanctions can potentially follow a student for the rest of his life. Remember, you can’t expunge a felony or misdemeanor conviction in Pennsylvania and New Jersey requires a substantial waiting period. Hazing can be graded as a felony charge in most cases; it is much more serious than a summary offense like underage drinking or disorderly conduct.
Further, hazing can just be one of many charges against a student such as included third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and even aggravated assault in addition to hazing. In most situations, these hazing incidents involve the overconsumption of alcohol. In the Penn State case for example, one of the fraternity brothers charged in the death of Piazza pled guilty to to four counts of hazing and five counts relating to unlawful acts involving liquor in the deadly injuries Piazza sustained following a night of heavy drinking and hazing. He was sentenced to three months of house arrest and 27 months of probation for his part in the hazing death of Piazza.
While this is an extreme case, it demonstrates that hazing isn’t limited to minor criminal charges. Even if the student isn’t charged with a felony, a criminal record of any kind can seriously limit a young person’s option later in life. If you have questions about hazing, or any criminal issues give our office a call.
New Jersey’s Anti Hazing Law
1. a. A person is guilty of hazing, if, in connection with initiation of applicants to or members of a student or fraternal organization, whose membership is primarily students or alumni of the organization or an institution of higher education, the person knowingly or recklessly:
(1) causes, coerces, or otherwise induces another person to commit an act that violates federal or State criminal law;
(2) causes, coerces, or otherwise induces another person to consume any food, liquid, alcoholic liquid, drug or other substance which subjects the person to a risk of emotional or physical harm or is otherwise deleterious to the person’s health;
(3) subjects another person to abuse, mistreatment, harassment, or degradation of a physical nature, including, but not limited to, whipping, beating, branding, excessive calisthenics, or exposure to the elements;
(4) subjects another person to abuse, mistreatment, harassment, or degradation of a mental or emotional nature, including, but not limited to, activity adversely affecting the mental or emotional health or dignity of the individual, sleep deprivation, exclusion from social contact, or conduct that could result in extreme embarrassment;
(5) subjects another person to abuse, mistreatment, harassment, or degradation of a sexual nature; or
(6) subjects another person to any other activity that creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the person.
Hazing shall not include any reasonable and customary athletic, law enforcement, or military training; contests; competitions; or events.
b. Hazing is a crime of the third degree if an actor commits an act prohibited in subsection a. of this section which results in death or serious bodily injury to another person and is a crime of the fourth degree if the actor commits an act prohibited in subsection a. of this section which results in bodily injury to another person. Otherwise, hazing is a disorderly persons offense.
c. In addition to any other sanctions or penalties that may be imposed, a student or fraternal organization described in subsection a. of this section, or an institution of higher education, that knowingly or recklessly promotes or facilitates a person to commit an act of hazing prohibited in this section shall be subject to a fine of not less than $1,000 or more than $5,000 for an initial violation of subsection a. of this section, and a fine of not less than $5,000 or more than $15,000 for each subsequent violation.
d. (1) A person, student or fraternal organization, or institution of higher education, and another person acting in concert with the person, organization, or institution, shall be immune from prosecution under this section if the person, or an employee, officer, or other agent acting on behalf of the organization or institution, as the case may be:
(a) called 9-1-1, or otherwise contacted campus security, police, or emergency services, and reported that a person was in need of medical assistance due to an act of hazing as described in this section;
(b) the caller provided the caller’s name and, if applicable, the name of the person acting in concert with the caller to the 9-1-1 operator or other recipient of the emergency contact;
(c) the caller was the first to make the 9-1-1 report or other emergency report; and
(d) the caller and, if applicable, the person acting in concert with the caller remained on the scene with the person in need of medical assistance until assistance arrived and cooperated with the emergency services on the scene.
(2) In addition to any other applicable immunity or limitation on civil liability, a law enforcement officer or other official empowered to act as an officer for the arrest of offenders against the laws of this State, or a prosecutor, who, acting in good faith, arrested or charged a person who is thereafter determined to be entitled to immunity from prosecution under this subsection shall not be subject to any civil liability for the wrongful arrest or charge.
Pennsylvania’s Hazing Law
§ 2802. Hazing.
(a) Offense defined.–A person commits the offense of hazing if the person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly, for the purpose of initiating, admitting or affiliating a minor or student into or with an organization, or for the purpose of continuing or enhancing a minor or student’s membership or status in an organization, causes, coerces or forces a minor or student to do any of the following:
(1) Violate Federal or State criminal law.
(2) Consume any food, liquid, alcoholic liquid, drug or other substance which subjects the minor or student to a risk of emotional or physical harm.
(3) Endure brutality of a physical nature, including whipping, beating, branding, calisthenics or exposure to the elements.
(4) Endure brutality of a mental nature, including activity adversely affecting the mental health or dignity of the individual, sleep deprivation, exclusion from social contact or conduct that could result in extreme embarrassment.
(5) Endure brutality of a sexual nature.
(6) Endure any other activity that creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the minor or student.
(1) Except as provided under paragraph (2), hazing is a summary offense.
(2) Hazing shall be a misdemeanor of the third degree if it results in or creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the minor or student.
(c) Limitation.–Hazing shall not include reasonable and customary athletic, law enforcement or military training, contests, competitions or events.
§ 2803. Aggravated hazing.
(a) Offense defined.–A person commits the offense of aggravated hazing if the person commits a violation of section 2802 (relating to hazing) that results in serious bodily injury or death to the minor or student and:
(1) the person acts with reckless indifference to the health and safety of the minor or student; or
(2) the person causes, coerces or forces the consumption of an alcoholic liquid or drug by the minor or student.
(b) Grading.–Aggravated hazing shall be a felony of the third degree.
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