Florida Court Discusses Felony Hazing as a Principal

Hazing is a long-standing tradition in many college fraternities and sororities. Hazing is also unlawful, and parties that engage in hazing can be charged criminally for any harm that occurs as a result of the hazing. Further, a person may be charged criminally for hazing even if he or she did not directly participate in the unlawful activity. This was demonstrated in a recent case decided by the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District, in which the court reversed a trial court’s dismissal of hazing charges against a fraternity president. If you live in St. Petersburg and are charged with hazing or any other crime alleging you caused bodily harm, it is sensible to meet with a skillful St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your options for striving to protect your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was the president of a fraternity at a Florida university. As the president, he presided over all fraternity activities and agreed to all pledge activities. Additionally, he was present for a meeting in which the members of the fraternity’s executive board discussed the dangers of the underage pledges becoming intoxicated at an upcoming pledge event, and he encouraged the event to take place.

Allegedly, during the event in question, the victim consumed most of a bottle of bourbon and subsequently died of acute alcohol intoxication. His blood alcohol concentration at the time of his death was over 0.44%. The defendant was not present at the event. The State charged the defendant with one count of felony hazing and one count of misdemeanor hazing, however. During a pre-trial hearing, the court dismissed the felony hazing count, after which the State appealed.

Felony Hazing as a Principal

On review, the appellate court found that there were sufficient facts alleged in the State’s statement of particulars to show that a reasonable jury could find that the defendant committed hazing under the principal theory. Under Florida law, hazing is defined as any action that intentionally or recklessly endangers the physical safety or health of a student for purposes of entering an organization. Hazing is a felony if it results in the serious injury or death of a person.

In the subject case, the State argued that the defendant violated the hazing statute as a principal. The law provides that when a person aids, counsels, or abets a crime to be committed, he or she is a principal in the first degree and can be charged with the crime, regardless of whether he or she is actually or constructively present. The court found that in light of the principal statute, it was proper to charge the defendant with felony hazing. Specifically, as the fraternity president, he directly approved the service of liquor to underage fraternity pledges at the event, thereby engaging in actions that lead to the victim’s ultimate death. As such, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling.

Speak with a Trusted Criminal Defense Attorney

College students can face severe criminal consequences for engaging in hazing, and it is critical for anyone charged with hazing, or any other crime of violence, to speak with a criminal defense attorney. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney with experience handling violent crime charges, and he will work diligently to help you pursue the best result available in your case. You can reach Mr. Hanlon at 727-897-5413 or via the online form to set up a conference