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Hazing

The state of Florida defines hazing as any activity that abuses, endangers, degrades, or humiliates another person, regardless of their willingness to participate. Hazing is prohibited at schools and universities under Florida law. Allegations of hazing incidents often occur in the environment of Greek life—meaning fraternities or sororities. However, hazing can occur in any group or organization.

Students in Florida can face disciplinary action after committing any of the following acts:

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

Colleges, universities, and even high schools now take the view that apathy or acquiescence in the presence of hazing is not a neutral act. This implies that taking a neutral stance by not reporting hazing is just as problematic as enforcing the alleged hazing acts. Remaining apathetic in the presence of hazing is considered a serious violation of the Student Code of Conduct that can subject the student to disciplinary action.

In addition to student disciplinary actions, hazing incidents can also lead to a person or group being charged with a criminal offense. This is because hazing is a criminal offense, which may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the details of the incident. In any case, hazing incidents carry extremely harsh consequences. A person facing allegations of hazing at their school or university should contact an experienced Tallahassee defense attorney.

Attorneys for Hazing Accusations in Tallahassee, FL

The attorneys at Pumphrey Law represent clients accused of “hazing” at universities in Tallahassee and throughout North Florida including Florida State University (FSU) and Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU).

Contact the criminal defense attorneys at Pumphrey Law in Leon County, to discuss accusations of hazing. Local law enforcement officers and school officials aggressively investigate these incidents. You also need a criminal defense attorney to aggressively protect a student from any accusation of a student code of conduct violation or a criminal offense under Florida law.

Call Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or send us an online message to discuss your case.

What is Hazing?

The act of hazing is defined as an activity or expectation of a person who is joining or participating in a group or organization, where such activity or expectation humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers the person completing it. The nature of hazing is dangerous and can even be deadly in some cases.

The three components that define hazing include:

  1. The alleged hazing occurs in a group context;
  2. The alleged acts are deemed as humiliating, degrading, or endangering behavior;
  3. The alleged hazing took place regardless of the individual’s willingness to participate.

Allegations of hazing frequently arise in instances of:

  • Pledging into a student organization;
  • Being initiated into a student organization;
  • Developing an affiliation with a student organization; 
  • Holding office in a student organization; or 
  • Maintaining membership in any student organization.

According to StopHazing, the organization promoting safe and inclusive environments, there is a spectrum of hazing that can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Intimidation – Includes hazing tactics such as deception, silenced periods with threats for violation, social isolation, use of demeaning names, and the expectation of certain acts or omissions by the members.
  2. Harassment – Includes hazing tactics such as verbal abuse, threats, or implied threats, requesting new members wear embarrassing outfits, forced degrading or humiliating acts, sleep deprivation, or sexual stimulations.
  3. Violence – Includes hazing tactics such as forced alcohol or drug consumption, beating, paddling, or other forms of physical assault, branding, forced ingestion of certain substances, water intoxication, abduction or kidnapping, or sexual assault.

While hazing is most associated with postsecondary institutions, it is important to note that acts of hazing can occur in a multitude of places. Hazing can occur in any club, organization, and teams who are in diverse settings such as middle and high schools, the military, and in the workplace. Ultimately, hazing acts can result in creating unsafe environments, making members of the specific group or organization feel a lacking sense of belonging, inclusion, and overall well-being.

The most frequently reported types of hazing behaviors include:

  • Drinking games;
  • Singing or chanting in a public setting; 
  • Drinking substantial amounts of alcohol to the point of getting sick or passing out; 
  • Sleep deprivation; and
  • Screaming, yelling, or cursing at other members.

Statistics on Hazing

In the 2008 national study, Hazing in View: College Students at Risk, a major gap in the research was filled on understanding hazing and its impacts, based on 11,482 survey responses from undergraduate students across 53 colleges. The following data was established through the study:

  • 55 percent of college students involved in sports, clubs, or organizations on campus responded to experiencing hazing before;
  • Hazing occurs in varsity athletics, fraternities, and sororities, but can extend to other group-organizations;
  • Hazing includes behaviors that are abusive, dangerous, and potentially illegal;
  • The most common hazing practices among student groups include alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation, and sex acts;
  • Student hazing has public aspects: 25 percent of coaches or group advisors claimed they were aware of the hazing behaviors, and 25 percent of the hazing behaviors occurred on campus in a public space;
  • In more than half of the reported hazing incidents, a member of the offending group posted images of the hazing online;
  • In 95 percent of the cases of students’ experiences with hazing, they admitted to failing to report the hazing acts to campus officials; and
  • 47 percent of students entering college admitted to already experiencing hazing.

Hazing incidents are often not reported because the students or individuals involved in the hazing feel that:

  • They do not want to get the team or group in trouble; 
  • They are afraid of negative consequences to them as a group member; 
  • They are afraid they would become an outsider if other group members found out; 
  • They do not know where to report hazing; or 
  • They felt they may be hurt by other group members if hazing was reported.

However, it is important to point out that hazing has extremely harsh penalties. Depending on where the alleged hazing took place and its resulting effects on the victim(s), a person or group accused of hazing can face consequences from their school, be prosecuted for a criminal offense, or both.

Anti-hazing Policies in Florida Schools

Universities and colleges in Florida do not tolerate any acts of hazing by any fraternity, sorority, student organization teams, students, or any member of the educational institution’s community. To combat and prevent the dangers of hazing, there are specific anti-hazing policies in place for Florida educational institutions. The two pieces of Legislation that created Florida’s anti-hazing policies include the “Chad Meredith Act” and “Andrew’s Law.”

  • The Chad Meredith Act – HB 193 titled the Chad Meredith Act was passed in the 2005 Legislative Session in honor of a former University of Miami freshman who died by drowning while attempting to complete a hazing act to join one of the university’s fraternities. Under the Chad Meredith Act, an accusation of dangerous hazing can be charged as a criminal offense. The Act also created Florida Statute Section 1006.135, which prohibits hazing at high schools with grades 9-12 and amends Section 1006.63 to prohibit hazing at postsecondary institutions where students receive financial aid.
  • Andrew’s LawFlorida Legislators unanimously passed SB 1080 titled Andrew’s Law in April 2019 after an FSU transfer student died from a hazing incident in 2017. Twenty-year-old Andrew Coffey was at the Pi Kappa Phi “Big Brother” initiation night, where he was challenged with finishing a family-sized bottle of Bourbon. Coffey was found unresponsive the next morning, and his autopsy found that his blood-alcohol level was at 0.447, which is six times the legal limit in Florida. The case resulted in nine of the fraternity members getting charged with hazing offenses. Andrew’s Law strengthens the Chad Meredith Act in the following ways:
    • Provides immunity to the person who calls 911 first (only when law enforcement is contacted), or who provides aid to a victim of hazing;
    • Authorizes the prosecution of event coordinators who put on events where hazing occurs and causes injury (even if the event coordinator is not in attendance); and/or
    • Authorizes the prosecution of hazing that causes any permanent damage.

Now, local colleges and universities in Florida that receive State student financial assistance are required under Florida law to adopt written anti-hazing policies. Such anti-hazing policies must adopt rules that prohibit students or other persons associated with any student organization from engaging in hazing.

Schools must provide a program for the enforcement of such rules and adopt appropriate penalties for any violations of such rules. Those penalties, which are to be administered by the individual at the institution responsible for the sanctioning of such organizations, can include:

  • The imposition of fines;
  • The withholding of diplomas or transcripts pending compliance with the rules or pending payment of fines; and
  • The imposition of probation, suspension, or dismissal.

If an organization at any college or university authorizes hazing in any form and in blatant disregard of such rules, then penalties may be imposed against such organization, group, or school. Penalties may include the loss of permission for that organization to operate on campus property or to otherwise operate under the sanction of the institution. In other words, the group or organization may be dismantled.

In the case of Andrew Coffey’s hazing incident, Florida State University (FSU) President John Thrasher responded by imposing an indefinite interim suspension on all fraternities and sororities. Additionally, President Thrasher introduced an alcohol ban on all Recognized Student Organization events during the specified interim suspension.

“For this suspension to end, there will need to be a new normal for Greek Life at the university,” Thrasher said in a statement. “There must be a new culture, and our students must be full participants in creating it.”

Although the interim suspension took place back in 2017, Pi Kappa Phi is still not included as an active fraternity on FSU’s Chapter Profiles. While the Pi Kappa Phi website still lists FSU’s Beta Eta section on its site, it is marked in italics to indicate the chapter’s inactivity due to being closed.

If you are under investigation for any alleged acts of hazing at FSU, FAMU, or any other Florida school that resulted in death or serious bodily injury, do NOT talk to any law enforcement officer until after you have spoken with an experienced criminal defense attorney.  The criminal defense attorneys at Pumphrey Law can help you protect your rights and represent you at every stage of a criminal investigation into hazing at a local college or university.

Florida Statute on Hazing

In addition to the education-based consequences given by a college or university for allegations of hazing, a person accused of such behavior can also face criminal prosecution.

Florida Statute Section 1006.63(1) defines the criminal act of “hazing” as any action or situation that intentionally or recklessly endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student. Hazing includes, but is not necessarily limited to, the following acts:

  • Pressuring a student into violating any state or federal law;
  • Coercing the student into violating any state or federal law;
  • Any brutality of a physical nature including:
    • Beating;
    • Whipping;
    • Exposure to the elements;
    • Branding;
    • Forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug, or other substance; or
    • Other forced physical activity that could adversely affect the physical health or safety of the student; or
  • Any activity that would subject the student to extreme mental stress, such as:
    • Forced conduct that could result in extreme embarrassment;
    • Sleep deprivation;
    • Forced exclusion from social contact; 
    • Other forced activity that could adversely affect the mental health or dignity of the student.

Important: Any activity as described above upon which the initiation or admission into or affiliation with a university organization is directly or indirectly conditioned shall be presumed to be a “forced” activity, the willingness of an individual to participate in such activity notwithstanding.

An exception to hazing under Florida law includes “customary athletic events” or similar contests, competitions, or any other conduct that furthers a legal and legitimate objective.

Penalties for Hazing

In the state of Florida, the criminal act of hazing can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

Florida Statute Section 1006.63 explains that a person can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor for hazing if they intentionally or recklessly commit, solicits another person to commit, or is actively involved in the planning of a hazing incident upon a member, former member, or applicant of an organization where the hazing creates a substantial risk of physical injury or death to the victim(s)

A person can be charged with a third-degree felony for hazing if they intentionally or recklessly commit, solicit another person to commit, or is actively involved in the planning of a hazing incident upon a member, former member, or applicant of an organization where the hazing results in permanent injury, serious bodily injury, or the death of another person.

If convicted, a defendant charged with a first-degree misdemeanor for hazing faces up to the following penalties:

  • Up to a $1,000 fine
  • Up to one year in jail

If convicted, a defendant charged with a third-degree felony for hazing faces up to the following penalties:

  • Up to a $5,000 fine
  • Up to five years in prison

Florida Statute Section 1006.63(4) provides that after a defendant is convicted of a hazing offense, the judge is required to order the convicted person to attend and complete a four-hour hazing education course and may also impose a condition of drug or alcohol probation.

Defenses to Hazing in Florida

Underneath the subsection of the hazing statute titled “Andrew’s Law”, there are several exceptions to a hazing incident where a person may not be prosecuted if they establish all the following:

  1. He or she was present at the event where, because of hazing, another person or persons needed medical assistance;
  2. He or she was the first person to contact 911 or campus security to report the need for immediate medical assistance following a hazing incident;
  3. He or she provided their own name, the address where the immediate medical assistance was needed, and a description of the medical issue to the 911 operator or campus security at the time of the call; and
  4. He or she remained at the scene with the person in need until they received the required immediate medical assistance, along with cooperating with all responding personnel at the scene.

It is also important to point out the defenses that are not applicable to use against a hazing crime allegation:

  • The victim(s) consented to the acts deemed as hazing incidents;
  • The alleged hazing activity that resulted in physical injury or death of another person was not an official organization, event, or not otherwise sanctioned or approved by an organization; or
  • The alleged hazing activity or conduct that resulted in the physical injury or death of another person was not done as a condition of membership to any organization.

If you are facing allegations of hazing, consider contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney in Florida who can represent your case.

Contact a Hazing Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, FL

Despite new research being conducted on hazing and its negative impacts on students and organization members, hazing is a continuous issue that can lead to both psychological and physical harm to those who experience it. Hazing becomes even more dangerous with its potential consequences – a group can be dismantled, closed indefinitely, and in some cases, members can be prosecuted for the crime of hazing.

If you or someone you know has recently been accused of a hazing crime, it is important that you consult with a knowledgeable defense attorney. A defense attorney can review your case details, establish any holes in the prosecution’s case, and look for defenses to either have your charges lessened or dismissed. Contact the defense attorneys at Pumphrey Law Firm at (850) 681-7777 or send us an online message. We’ll provide you with a free case consultation to determine the extent of taking on your case.


Page Updated November 22, 2023

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