One of the first things many people associate with fraternities is the centuries-old tradition of hazing new pledges, but after deaths started springing up around the country related to hazing activities, many states, including California, started banning dangerous hazing rituals. If you have been charged with a crime related to hazing or want to make sure your organization’s hazing practices fall within the scope of the law, call a San Diego defense lawyer as soon as possible.
The first thing anyone should know about hazing laws in California is that not all of these activities are illegal. In order to violate the law, a hazing ritual needs to be part of an initiation or pre-initiation into a student organization that is likely to cause serious bodily injury to a student and is not a customary athletic event or school-sanctioned activity.
For example, requiring a pledge to wrestle another member of the fraternity would not be against the law, as long as standard rules of Greco-Roman wresting are upheld. On the other hand, forcing someone to drink excessive amounts of alcohol would be in violation of the law as alcohol poisoning is a real threat that could cause serious bodily injury.
It’s also important to note that this law only applies to student organizations, so if a local men’s club decided to introduce potentially dangerous initiation practices, they would not be violating the law. Because it isn’t always easy to interpret how a law may be applied in a given situation, it is advisable that anyone planning to set up a hazing ritual contact a San Diego criminal attorney before implementing them in order to stay on the right side of the law.
You should also remember that no one needs to be injured in order for the law to be violated, it just has to be likely for a student to suffer serious bodily harm. Also, the person being hazed doesn’t have to be at risk, it can be any student from any college. For example, if the ritual involves blasting an air horn right in the face of a student from a rival college, it would still be illegal under the law as it could cause damage to that student’s ears. Strangely, if it involved doing the same action to a homeless person, the people involved could be charged with assault or battery, but not hazing as the victim was not a student.
Even if you are not the person directly responsible for the hazing, you could be held liable for aiding and abetting. In fact, simply participating in a hazing incident by being the purchaser of the alcohol involved could result in your criminal liability. This is yet another reason to never speak with the police without your defense attorney present -it can be all too easy to say something you think will work in your defense and end up admitting guilt instead.
If no actual bodily harm has occurred, hazing charges are misdemeanors, but if someone has been injured the crime can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor charges can carry a sentence of up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines while felony offenses can result in prison terms of up to three years. An experienced San Diego criminal lawyer can be critical in helping to fight these charges and minimizing the potential penalties.
If you have been charged with hazing or have any questions about the crime, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation with San Diego defense attorney Peter M. Liss.
Creative Commons Image by Richard Hurd