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Joining a fraternity or sorority on a university campus is often pictured in TV or movies to be a test of pushing yourself to the limit to be “one of us.” It is often depicted in a humorous way, however, there is nothing funny about hazing. The reality of the situation is that it is a play on power and forcing young and vulnerable students to complete challenges and activities that can be harmful both mentally and physically. In the most severe cases, students have died from hazing incidents.

College years are supposed to be a fun and exciting times for young adults. College students meet new people and get their first taste of freedom after leaving home. Getting caught up in a situation where hazing takes place can lead to the loss of freedom, expulsion from school, and potential jail time. Even if you think it is harmless, chances are, hazing is anything but. Don’t let one mistake ruin the rest of your college career, your future, and the well-being of others. If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with hazing, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, Florida.

Attorney for Hazing in Hillsborough County, FL

As a young college student, it is probably terrifying to realize you’ve been charged with a hazing crime. Although it may seem like the odds are against you, the first thing you need to do is reach out to an experienced Tampa student defense attorney. Joel Elsea at Elsea Law Firm, P.A. has defended college students across the Tampa Bay area and is well prepared to stand by your side and fight for your freedom. Call (813) 451-8583 today and receive your free consultation today.

Defining Hazing

Florida Statute Section 1006.63 defines hazing as any activity that abuses, endangers, degrades, or humiliates a person. This is regardless of the victim’s willingness to participate in the activity. Reports of hazing are most commonly against members of the Greek life on university campuses, meaning in fraternities or sororities. Hazing is defined as someone pressuring or coercing an/other student(s) into violating any state or federal law or implementing any brutality of a physical nature including:

  • Beating
  • Whipping
  • Exposure to the elements
  • Branding
  • Forced consumption of drugs, alcohol, food, or other substances
  • Any other forced physical activity that can threaten the safety of the student(s)

It also includes activities that would cause severe mental stress, such as the following:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Forced exclusion from a social setting
  • Forced conduct resulting in shame or embarrassment
  • Any other forced activity that could harm the student(s) mental health or dignity

Over the last few years after more and more hazing events have taken place, Florida colleges and universities—and even some high schools—take the perspective that any type of presence during hazing is not neutral. Any involvement in hazing is considered a serious violation of university’s Student Codes of Conduct, which can result in disciplinary action for any students involved.

Florida students at USF and UT can face disciplinary action if they have committed any of the following acts:

  • Actively participating in any activity relating to hazing;
  • Passively participating in any activity relating to hazing;
  • Having any knowledge of any activity relating to hazing.

Unfortunately, it is not so common for other students to report hazing incidents. The reasons behind failures to report can range from students not wanting to get the others in trouble, being afraid of the consequences if you’re a part of the same group or organization, not knowing where to report a hazing incident, or fearing for their own safety from other group members.

Common Types of Hazing

Although there can be various types of activities that can be classified as hazing, here is a list of the most common reported acts of hazing on college or university campuses:

  • Drinking games leading to excessive drinking, to the point of being sick or passing out
  • Singing or chanting in public areas
  • Physically demanding challenges
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Shouting or yelling at other members

Penalties for Hazing in Florida

Under Florida Statute Section 1006.63, hazing is considered a third-degree felony if the act “intentionally or recklessly” results in the serious bodily harm or the death of another person who is a member or applicant of the student organization. The third-degree felony is punishable by a fine of $5,000 and up to five years in prison. Hazing can also receive a first-degree misdemeanor charge if the defendant intentionally or recklessly committed an act of hazing that created a substantial risk of physical injury or death upon another member or applicant of a student organization. The penalty for a first-degree hazing misdemeanor is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Investigations into Hazing

Colleges and universities across Florida now have a zero-tolerance policy towards hazing from any sorority, fraternity, student organizations, students, or members of the educational community. The following are a list of allegations that lead to investigations of hazing on campus:

  • Pledging into a student organization such as a fraternity or sorority;
  • Initiation into a student organization;
  • Developing an affiliation with a student organization;
  • Holding office in a student organization; or
  • Maintaining membership in any student organization.

The Chad Meredith Act

The Chad Meredith Act was passed in July of 2005 by the Florida House of Representatives. The law was passed after student Chad Meredith drowned while trying to complete a task to join a fraternity at the University of Miami. Under the Chad Meredith act, an accusation of hazing can be charged as a criminal offense.

With the passing of the Chad Meredith Act, it can now be found within the Florida Statute Section 1006.63(2). It explains that a person who commits a hazing crime can be charged with a third-degree felony. This includes if the person intentionally or recklessly commits, solicits a person to commit, or is actively involved in the planning of any act of hazing. If the hazing results in serious death or injury to the victim, it is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, even if the person involved consented to the activity.

Antihazing Policies

Florida colleges and universities are responsible for adopting written anti-hazing policies if they are given State student financial aid. There must be rules to prohibit students or organizations from engaging in hazing. The colleges and universities have to provide programs to educate and explain how the rules will be enforced at the institution. If the rules are violated, there are penalties that will be administered to the person(s) responsible for sanctioning such activities. The following list includes those penalties:

  • Imposition of fines;
  • Withholding diplomas or transcripts from the students responsible, pending compliance with the rules;
  • Probation, suspension, or dismissal from the college or university.

In addition, if an organization on a college or university campus is blatantly disregarding the rules and is authorizing hazing, there is a chance that a penalty will be imposed to completely shut down the organization and refuse to let it continue operating on campus.

Defenses to Hazing Charges

Although it can seem difficult to stand up against a hazing charge, there are certain defenses that can be used. Under the Florida Statute Section 1006.63(5) it explains that it is not a defense to the crime of hazing if:

  • The consent of the victim had been obtained;
  • The conduct or activity resulted in the death or injury of a person who was not part of an official organizational event or was not sanctioned or approved by the organization;
  • The conduct or activity that resulted in the death or injury of a person was not done as a condition of membership to an organization.

Additional Resources in Tampa Bay Area

  • USF Prevent Zone – On USF’s website, they have a page dedicated to different variations of hazing prevention. From athletes to fraternities and sororities, the school offers a course to provide practices to teach students how to recognize, report, and prevent hazing on campus. The course is in partnership with HazingPrevention.Org. You can also read more about the university’s specific rules and regulations in their Code of Conduct.
  • A Word on Hazing: University of Tampa – The University of Tampa works with two different hazing resources, and has a detailed Code of Conduct to explain the rules against hazing on campus. Every fraternity and sorority chapter must evaluate the mission and purpose of new membership and report any incident of hazing to the inter/national organization and local jurisdictions.
  • StopHazing – A nationwide organization dedicated to preventing violence and disruption. They are a research entity dedicated to finding ways to prevent hazing while educating students and teachers.
  • Org – An organization that focuses on teaching colleges, universities, schools, clubs, teams, and other groups to create a culture that stops hazing before it even starts.

Finding a Hazing Defense Attorney in Hillsborough County and Tampa Bay Area

If you or a loved one has been charged with a hazing crime, the first step is to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney in Tampa, Florida. After being arrested for a hazing charge, you may feel like you are lost and have no hope. Especially for young college students who wind up with a hazing charge, it can feel like your future is about to end. Don’t let one mistake affect your record and the rest of your life. Joel Elsea and his team at Elsea Law Firm, P.A. have the experience and drive to defend your case. They are ready to stand in your corner and fight for your freedom. Call (813) 451-8583 today and receive a free consultation regarding your case.

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