Everyone has heard about hazing in organizations, often fraternities and sororities, on college campuses, but just because it's common doesn't make it legal or acceptable student behavior according to university codes of conduct. In fact, individuals accused of hazing could face not only criminal charges but also serious consequences from their university as well, even including expulsion.
If you've been accused of hazing, you need to know your rights as soon as possible. Not only could the rest of your college career be in jeopardy, but you also could be facing future employment and other consequences as well. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento, an experienced disciplinary hearing lawyer, immediately to discuss your options on how to best defend yourself in a disciplinary hearing concerning hazing allegations.
Hazing Incidents and Consequences
In January 2020, a New Mexico State University student was charged with felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly shooting another student. Miguel Altamirano was implicated in this horrific incident, which has been characterized as hazing in the media as it took place on a college campus during a fraternity's pledging process. Altamirano's defense attorney insisted that the shooting occurred as part of “joking around” that was perhaps negligent, but nonetheless, it served as another well-publicized example of how initiation rituals in fraternities can go terribly wrong on campus.
Although the occurrence in New Mexico resulted in assault charges, many states classify hazing as a criminal offense itself. In 2018 for example, Pennsylvania enacted an anti-hazing law after the death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza, a sophomore engineering student at Penn State University who died from severe head and abdominal injuries after a night of drinking and several falls inside a fraternity house in 2017. Pennsylvania's law made aggravated hazing a felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Accused students may also face civil lawsuits brought by the victims of the alleged hazing incidents. Personal injury actions such as these can be quite costly to defend and, of course, there's no telling how high into the millions of dollars jury verdicts could go in favor of the plaintiff.
In addition to potential criminal penalties and civil lawsuits, many instances of alleged hazing are also handled within the disciplinary process of colleges and universities and according to their respective codes of conduct. Most schools have procedures in place to handle alleged hazing incidents, and these processes often involve holding a hearing to determine responsibility as well as sanctions.
Hazing is defined individually by colleges and universities, most of which explicitly prohibit it, but generally, it involves behavior that requires another person to engage in painful, dangerous, abusive, or humiliating rituals or activities to initiate them into an organization, fraternity, sorority, sports team, or other group. The offending conduct may be mental or physical in nature.
Common examples of hazing include the following:
- Forced alcohol, food, or drug consumption, especially to excess
- Forced sexual conduct
- Forced attire, especially inappropriate, or stripping
- Forced participation in illegal acts
- Sleep deprivation
- Kidnapping or confinement
- Paddling, hitting with objects, and other physical violence
- Use of derogatory or embarrassing names or nicknames
Because the definitions of hazing vary widely among colleges and universities, you must have experienced legal counsel by your side to sift through the applicable code and the facts of your case.
Schools' Handling of Hazing Allegations
Most colleges and universities lay out their policies and procedures for handling hazing accusations in the code of conduct or other official publication of the school. Generally, the process involves an investigation during which the organization is notified and interviews are conducted with various parties who were involved or may have been involved, including organization officers, members, and pledges. If the group is affiliated with a national organization, the school usually notifies them directly as well. Most schools have officials who will decide whether disciplinary charges should be brought.
If charges are brought, the accused is entitled to hearing during which both the accused and the alleged victims can produce and question witnesses.
Those accused of hazing could face a number of adverse disciplinary actions by the school, which are enumerated in the code of conduct. They could be removed from university housing, lose financial aid or scholarships, or be placed on probation or suspension. The most serious hazing incidents could even result in their expulsion from school.
The organization involved could also be punished both by the school and its national organization. The school may suspend or expel the group entirely, and the national organization may revoke the chapter's charter.
There's no doubt that recent specific incidents involving death or serious bodily injury such as those described above have pushed schools to implement and enforce stricter hazing policies. Possible penalties for hazing even at the university level are severe enough to have a detrimental impact on your life well into your future.
As you can see, with the stakes so high, you don't want to be facing a student disciplinary hearing at your school alone.
Put your Case in the Hands of an Experienced Student Disciplinary Hearing Lawyer
As discussed above, hazing may be charged as a criminal offense depending on the circumstances involved and you could even face a civil lawsuit, but even if you are facing solely disciplinary proceedings by your school, it is still advisable to hire counsel as soon as possible.
And another thing: Don't speak to anyone, including individuals who were there or who are involved in your organization, about your case until you do. Just like you see them say on TV all the time, any statements that you make can be used against you, so it's best to stay silent until you can speak with an advisor knowledgeable on the legal and disciplinary issues surrounding hazing.
You should also be careful not to destroy or share any potential evidence with anyone; even deleting videos could bring you more legal trouble.
If you need representation in a student disciplinary action that involves hazing allegations, contact Joseph D. Lento online today or call 888-535-3686 to discuss your case today.