Hazing in New York
What actions place you at risk?
The saying goes that everyone loves to participate in good clean fun, but what happens when that fun is at the expense of another? This is where hazing comes in. Hazing occurs at educational establishments, social groups, sporting events, and some clubs.
Actions include the induction of new members or other participants via various methods that involve physical, emotional, or mental damage. The commission of the acts can be embarrassing, painful, or harmful to the victim. By participating in any actions that are deemed questionable in which you assert authority over another individual in an appropriate way.
Who can get involved?
Whether you are the perpetrator, a bystander, or a contributor, you can hold responsibility and be tried for hazing. When in a situation where you are unsure, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable performing the task? Does it harm the individual in any way? Does this act need to be concealed?
Hazing was at one time associated with college-level activities such as fraternities or sororities. However, the pastime has made its way into high schools, middle schools, and other recreational activities. Many various ages now participate in hazing, whether they know better or not.
For example and perspective, even events such a tee ball where one player is made to run laps to improve and others are not, can be considered hazing. By pausing and looking at the behavior, if any of the actions would cause for the distress, it is likely to be considered hazing. Whether you are directly causing the harm or watching you are at risk for charges.
As stated in Article 120, section 120.16 and 120.17, hazing involves the initiation of another individual via physical activity or contact. This activity poses a risk to the individual performing the deed. The section of the law in which Hazing is covered is also the section detailing assault, violent crimes, and even stalking.
Though this pastime used to be considered harmless, and just “joining in on the fun,” there are now laws to protect individuals from being singled out and possibly damaged for wanting to participate. Campuses, sports organizations, clubs, and social groups are now being held to a higher standard and no longer are allowed to punish new members.
Violent Offenses of Hazing
The fact that hazing is listed alongside violent offenses should show the seriousness of this crime that has long been understated. In New York, hazing is broken down into two degrees.
The first degree is the more serious offense. The first degree differs from the second in that there is an injury that occurs. If any type of physical damage occurs, then it demands a more serious offense.
Hazing in the second degree places an individual at a high risk of injury, but it does not necessarily mean damage occurred.
Hazing itself is defined as forcing an individual to commit a possibly dangerous feat in order to be brought into a group, willingly or not. In other words, by forcing someone to do anything that can cause harm to them show they are “one of the guys” or to join a club would constitute hazing.
New York law denotes that physical damage is the deciding factor that means hazing. However, HazingPrevention.org claims that even mental or emotional abuse could be considered hazing. In any definition of the term, hazing involves a type of abuse to another person as a part of a group.
Whether or not the person being mistreated wants to join the said group or not, any trials they are put through that causes them harm qualifies.
Hazing vs Bullying
It is important to note that sporting events and competitions do not meet this definition. It is not a crime to play in a tournament or try-outs to be allowed to join a team sport. This action has a different intention.
The intention is not to harm the individuals, rather showcase their talents.
When discussing hazing, bullying also becomes a topic. The primary difference between the two is the action. To bully someone would be excluding them from the activity and singling them out. To haze would be the individual being or trying to be included.
The difference is the action itself. Whether or not the individual wants to participate or not does mark a difference. It is dependant on the group’s or offender’s intention. In order to be prosecuted for hazing, there are two critical elements that must be met by the prosecution or a school disciplinary board. The following are the two elements that constitute hazing.
The physical event that is being intentionally forced upon another is the first element. The event itself must be intentionally done to the individual. Things such as beating, forcing dangerous activities such as drinking or illicit substances, or being publicly humiliated. Any action that is intentionally done with the intention to harm or humiliate can be considered hazing.
Friendly competitions (that are not forced or harmful), team building activities or events are not considered hazing. These examples have been offered as substitutes to the harmful rituals but still, allow for team spirit building. The intention of including without the harshness makes the difference.
It will be up to the judiciary to determine if the event itself qualifies. The important thing to consider is whether or not a member would have to participate, and if you, yourself would join in. If the answer is no, then you may need to reconsider your induction events.
The event that is being performed is inherently harmful either causing injury or placing at high risk. Being beaten, paraded, forced to perform risky behavior or destruction of property can be considered harmful. Whether or not an injury occurs determines the degree in the state of New York.
Again, friendly competitions, sports try-outs, or team events do not qualify as hazing. If the activity is being performed to bond and form a comradery versus to entertain and humiliate the new individuals, then it does not constitute hazing. The difference again is in the intention and the risks. The determination of risks would be determined by the associate presenting the trial.
Whether this is done by a school board or criminal prosecutor, the event will be scrutinized based on the risks that it poses to the players or individuals. Although sporting events are sometimes dangerous (such as football or contact sports), the risk associated is applied to ALL players, not just the new ones, and are not intended to cause harm.
Currently, there are no federal guidelines associated with hazing. Of the 50 states, 44 have enacted some sort of law or deterrent for hazing. Hawaii, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and New Mexico are the only states where there is no legal punishment on a state level for hazing.
Surprisingly as well, only 10 states have made it a felony if the individual suffers serious injury or death. Florida, Texas, California, Utah, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, New Jersey, and West Virginia have the most severe punishments for those that haze and cause damage.
Laws of Hazing
The most progressive state on hazing is Florida. Due to 2 new laws, the Chad Meredith Law passed in 2002 and Andrew’s Law, passed in April 2019 are both huge advances to prevent hazing. Chad Meredith Law is named after an individual who died during hazing. It states incidences considered hazing and names out instances to cite. Andrew’s Law expands on these principles.
It encourages and provides immunity to the whistleblower that reports or any individual that renders aid (or calls 911) to assist someone in danger who suffered from hazing. Laws similar to this are underway in other states to not only define hazing but to protect those that try to break the trend. Currently, legislation has been presented to track hazing.
The law also sets out educational and reporting guidelines for hazing. It has not been passed or voted on at this time. This would be the first step in federal legislation to help prevent and punish those who benefit from the suffering of others.
As previously stated, bullying is a common related crime. Outlined in the NY Penal Code Article 120, there are other similar offenses such as assault, reckless endangerment, menacing, and not stated but discrimination.
- Bullying is defined by punishing an individual and excluding them. The exclusion is what makes this very different from hazing. Hazing involves the inclusion of individuals into the group. The singling out and focus on that individual sets it apart from hazing.
- Assault is defined as causing injury to another individual willingly. By initialing someone into a group via beating, paddling, or harm to an individual, assault can be included with the hazing charge. Obviously, causing the physical damage would institute hazing in the first degree, but it could also include assault, battery (the threat to do harm) and even in extreme cases murder/manslaughter.
- Reckless endangerment involves placing someone in harm’s way knowingly, and willingly. By placing the recruits in the way of harm, such as illegal substances or forced drinking, it places them at physical harm. The threat of harm or death can cause this charge to be added as well.
- Menacing involves brandishing a weapon of sorts that places another at risk or death or grave injury. This charge can be added depending on the circumstances. The example of paddling, or beating/spanking an individual with a paddle in a ritual method, could qualify based on the degree of damage, intention, and the act itself.
It is critical to note the damage that can be caused by the use of force with an instrument. Adding this charge makes this the worst form of a misdemeanor or a felony.
Depending on the circumstances, discrimination can occur. If the individuals are being singled out for one of the protected reasons such as gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity, or other protected disability, then this can be added. This can lead to additional civil suits that cause damages to be sued. These large sums can add up quickly to those that were singled out based on a protected trait.
The circumstances, who is involved, if a weapon was used, the intention and the commission of the act can determine the extent of the charges. Each situation is different and requires its own review. The charges that can arise can vary depending on the exact situation.
- The first case of hazing comes from Ohio University. An 18-year-old, Collin Wiant, was killed amidst initiate rituals. The students and parents have reported horrifying incidents of beatings with belts, forced drinking of alcohol, drugs to cause outbursts and entertainment, and even throwing eggs have been reported.
He was the twelfth death reported. He was found surrounded by “whippits” also known as nitrous oxide and drug paraphernalia. He died by asphyxiation from the nitrous oxides; in other words, he suffocated due to lack of safe, breathable air.
His parents are filing suit against the school, as there are many documented cases of hazing, however many of the reports have gone unpunished, so his parents are fighting an unjust, uphill battle. The school had conducted investigations and internal punishments to some, but many do not undergo criminal charges for their crimes.
- A second example case involves the United State Marine Corp (USMC). There were many reported incidents of hazing throughout the training process. Recruits accused several individuals of mistreatment. Some of the examples include being made to wear underwear on one woman’s head.
This female claims she had left them under her bed and was forced to wear them along with fecal matter on her head. A separate female recruit had her tooth chipped after an incident with her drill sergeant. She allegedly corrected another recruit during rifle training (with parade rifles) and was assaulted. It was unclear whether the instructor or the weapon struck her face to cause the injury.
However, when she attempted to write a complaint, it was discovered, confiscated, and the drill sergeant in question was punished. Hazing has been a noted increasing trend at the bases, and have received more attention following the death (a questionable suicide) of a recruit in 2016.
The military leaders have enforced harsher penalties on those that force the new recruits to perform inappropriate activities. Leadership was quick to tell the press of the 98% of individuals who perform their duties along with their families and deserve attention rather than the negative light.
- Finally, a third example comes from the University of Buffalo in New York. A student was found down on the front lawn of a large mansion that was rented by one of the fraternities. Sebastian Serafin-Bazan was treated for respiratory illness, possibly the flu, at a local hospital prior to the party.
Witnesses say that the party had occurred at the address where he was found. He was pronounced dead five days after the party. Though there was no alcohol or drugs in his system, police are still conducting an investigating the event.
In each of these examples, there is evidence of misconduct by someone in a more powerful position. The victims were humiliated, suffered emotional and physical damage, and possibly died from events related to hazing.
This crime is not victimless or harmless as it is often proposed to be. The ‘fun’ that these individuals suffered from at their expense will stay with them and haunt their families for the rest of their lives.
Who Investigates Hazing?
Though hazing is a criminal offense, it is not only investigated by law enforcement but also by educational establishments and leadership of team events. These activities have their own governing bodies that investigate in addition to the police to impose their own punishments. Whether it be expulsion, suspension, disbanding, or even being removed from the events, each case that is reported is investigated.
The educational system, sports teams, or event leadership are able to impose their own private punishments to the individuals. Though these may not make it to their criminal record, a suspension or expulsion would remain on their academic record whereas removal from a sporting team would be documented within the league.
What happens after the case has been reported to law enforcement?
When reported to law enforcement, criminal prosecution allows for police to gather data and determine what charges are applicable to the situation. Though many cases are still not reported for various reasons such as fear or shame, the cases that are investigated help to shine a light on this crime and place those responsible accountable for their actions.
In states without hazing laws, the agencies are able to deliver their own punishments for the misconduct when there are not legal implications that can be used. Though an expulsion may not punish severely enough if there is serious damage, it still allows for a type of justice for the victim.
In some states, there is no legal punishment for hazing. Though schools and other establishments can institute a type of punishment, there is no criminal case that can be done. There are civil suits that can be tried or other associated crimes,but hazing itself is not considered a criminal crime.
Fortunately, in the state of New York, hazing in the first degree is considered a class A misdemeanor. This charge can come with fines and up to a year in prison. This charge remains on your criminal record and can follow you for the rest of your life. Having a charge on your record can make it difficult to find employment, schooling, enter the military, or obtain government resources.
It is critical to consult with an attorney if you believe you have participated or conducted hazing. Though New York does not have the same protection that Florida reporters have, there are measurements in place to help the whistleblowers that are trying to stop the practice.
With hazing, the situation itself can cause an escalation in the situation. Depending on the outcome of the victim, the damage that occurred, and the charges associated, the impact can have life-altering effects.
Should the victim suffer from injuries or die from the related activities, you can face charges for assault, battery, manslaughter/murder, and any other illegal activity (such as drugs or underage drinking) that can be added on as well. Each situation must have all the details examined to determine the extent of the damage and possible outcomes.
If you have a criminal background at this point or are a repeat offender, a judge can order additional time or fines to punish further. In addition, a school board or educational judiciary system can implement punishments as well.
In addition to the penalties that are associated with hazing, there are also punishments for other activities that occurred as well. Activities such as dispersing alcohol to underage students, distribution of illegal substances, or any other illegal activity can also be added to the charges you are facing.
The crimes that are associated with criminal misdemeanor or felonies can stay with you for your entire adult life. These make it difficult to obtain employment later in life and possibly interfere with your future education.
Also, educational systems, sports establishments, and other agencies will implement their own punishments as well. Expulsion, suspension, disbanding of fraternities, and academic probation can be punishments brought down by a school or university. With sporting events, removal from the team, fines, and disbarring from competitions can be penalties that are faced. The penalties that are applied are dependant on the school and the situation of the crime.
With hazing, there are a few defenses that can be implemented. The first defense involves a lack of real danger, and the second is an assumption of risks. Before beginning on possible defenses, it is important to understand two statements. The first, these examples do NOT replace proper legal advice. It is always recommended to gain advice when facing criminal charges.
The second statement is it is critical to note that Consent Defense is not effective.
This method states that the individual willingly participated in the event. Many states have actually banned this defense as their intentional participation does not justify their actions. Just because the victim chose to participate in the group activity, it does not make you less liable for your actions.
- The first defense is a lack of danger. This could occur in many different scenarios. One example could be forcing them to eat dirt; however, instead of eating dirt, they are eating Oreo crumbs. Though they THINK they are potentially eating dirt with foreign contaminates, fertilizer or other poisonous chemicals, since they are actually eating food crumbs, there is no real danger associated with the event.
A toy gun being used to intimidate (though highly discouraged due to other charges that could occur) could also technically be associated with a lack of real danger in hazing.
- The second defense is an assumption of risks. If the victim is informed of the impending event with the associated risks, it can sometimes be established that they participated anyways knowing the risks and making their own decision to join in.
This defense is not always successful as it borders along the same lines of the consent defense. However, it has been successful in some limited circumstances.
No matter your situation or details, a legal representative should always be contacted to review a defense. By having a professional who is aware of the laws and exact charges, it can help you to formulate an individual plan.
Why Contact an Attorney?
With any case that involves criminal proceedings, affects your education or ability to make a living, a lawyer should be contacted. Unlike simple traffic infractions that fade from a record within a few years, these charges can be life long.
This can affect your ability to gain employment, and felony charges have their own consequences that come with the title. By having an experienced attorney at your side for your defense or prosecution, they can look at the situation and help to determine what approach best suits your individual needs.
- Chase Breckenridge and Alexander Ross were both charged with hazing and failure to report hazing. However, despite ongoing criminal investigations, the men were in interesting situations this spring. Both were allowed to graduate from the University accusing them of the inappropriate activity. Though both cases are still being reviewed through the criminal courts, it sets an unusual president.
The university has a policy in which any student that is arrested must sit before the disciplinary board for punishment. However, the 1-year suspension that was issued to the pair will not affect their graduation. Despite the disbanded fraternity, conviction of felony and misdemeanor charges of other members and the ongoing investigation. Breckenridge and Rozzas were both allowed to graduate.
This punishment that was issued by the university, but due to their statues, will not be served. The attorneys representing them state that the graduation negates the suspension that would have been served. Also commenting that their clients had a defense to the behavior that occurred, with no illegal activity noted. The criminal trial is still pending, and the university sentence was not served.
- At the State University of New York, 21 students are facing charges in relation to hazing incidents. The current charges include assault, battery, inappropriate dealings with a minor (in relation to serving alcohol) and hazing,
The fraternity in question has been closed down until investigations are complete. At least 6 more former students are expected to face charges. Allegations of the pledges vary from eating off the floor, being hit with a paddle, being urinated or vomited on and other abusive behavior.
Students are facing punishments from the university in relation to their education and from the criminal system for varying degrees of involvement.
- Sebastian Sarafen-Bazzan was found unresponsive on the front lawn of a mansion being used for fraternity parties. After being taken to the hospital, he died of related causes 5 days later. The fraternity in question has been disbanded, Sigma Pi at the University of Buffalo in New York.
Police are investigating the teen’s death while the university seeks punishment as well to those involved. Sebastian was recently treated for a respiratory illness before the party. Neighbors placed the fraternity at the location, stating there was a party in place.
Sebastian was rushed to a local hospital when he was found unresponsive but was unable to recover. There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol in his system. However, the police are not ruling it out.
- Parris Island Marine Corps has made headlines as 8 drill instructors have received varying degrees of punishment following allegations of hazing. Incidents range from threats, making recruits wear soiled underwear on their head, being told to lie about incidents, and subjected to CS gas twice (when the standard is one time).
The administration has stated that the individuals each received punishments based on the allegations. This is the second time the location has been in the spotlight for hazing the new recruits. A ‘suicide’ after a hazing incident and assault was questioned in 2017 as well.
Leadership states that over 98% of their instructors perform well and commend their families and individuals. Those that are found to not be at par are punished and held accountable.
- Braxton Beckner was the house manager of Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Penn State. During an initiation ceremony with alcohol on campus, Tim Piazza was intoxicated and fell. He was found the next morning at the basement steps of the facility. His ‘brothers’ waited for 40 minutes before calling for help.
The events of the night lead to his death. Piazza was participating in a hazing ritual with forced drinking at the fraternity. Beckner was charged with tampering with evidence and hindering apprehension. He stated that surveillance cameras were not functioning at the property the night of Tim’s death.
However, he wrote a text to a fellow member in regards to deleting the footage. A command prompt for data deletion was found on the DVR, and none of the videos could be salvaged. Other members of the fraternity have pleaded guilty in providing the alcohol for the event and hazing as well. There are still trials pending for some of the members that were present that night.