Florida Hazing Laws
If you have a son or daughter (or grandchild) heading to college, joining a sorority or fraternity may be on their list of things to do. Camaraderie and new friends are great, but admission to some on-campus organizations can also include “initiation rites.” Some may be harmless or silly, but many of the initiations may include physical injuries or other harmful activity. The law calls these dangerous acts something else: hazing.
What Is Hazing?
Florida law defines hazing as any activity that abuses, endangers, degrades, or humiliates a person, without regard to a person’s willingness to engage in such activities. Prohibited by Florida Statutes § 1006.63, hazing also includes:
- Coercing an individual into violating state or federal laws
- Physical abuse (whipping, beating, branding)
- Forcing a student to consume food, alcohol, drugs or other substances
- Forcing a student to participate in any physical activity that could lead to harm to the health and safety of a student that could cause extreme mental or physical distress (i.e., sleep deprivation)
- Forcing a student to participate in conduct that could cause extreme embarrassment
Legitimate athletic and related activities are not considered hazing.
Florida’s hazing laws are some of the strictest in the country. The Chad Meredith Act was signed by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005. The Act is named after University of Miami freshman Chad Meredith who drowned in an on-campus lake while attempting to join a fraternity in 2001.
Florida has expanded its hazing laws to include junior and senior high school level hazing. Even knowing about an incident of dangerous hazing without reporting or intervening can bring hazing charges against an individual.
While hazing is most commonly associated with fraternities, university marching bands have also been known to participate.
Hazing someone who is a member or applying to join a student organization that creates a substantial risk of injury or death to an individual is a first-degree misdemeanor offense. If the hazing causes serious injury or death to a member or applicant, the resulting charge is a third-degree felony offense.
Any penalties — which may include incarceration — include a 4-hour hazing course and possibly drug and alcohol probation, if warranted.
Acts of this nature are still considered hazing if:
- The victim gave his or her consent to the hazing
- The hazing activity was not part of an official organized event or was not sanctioned
- The activity that resulted in injury or death was not a condition of admission to the organization
Defense Against Hazing Charges
Hazing is serious, and Florida does not tolerate it. Michael Morton and Jason Harris were the first individual sentenced under the Chad Meredith Act. They were sentenced to two years in prison in January of 2007 for severely beating Marcus Jones in fraternity hazing.
If you or someone you know has been charged with hazing at a Florida college or university, jail time is a real possibility. Hazing incidents are aggressively investigated by law enforcement and university officials. Contact The Umansky Law Firm today to discuss your case.