Demystifying the Public Haze Surrounding Hazing

October 4, 2012

Out of all the crimes on the books, public misconceptions surrounding hazing perhaps loom the largest. While many confine the practice to rowdy college fraternities and sororities, the crime of hazing goes well beyond “Greek Life”--- athletic clubs, religious organizations, and the military alike have all fallen victim to frequent incidents of friendly torture.

Although hazing is often viewed publicly as merely involving “foolish pranks” with no “malicious” intent and therefore no “serious” criminal consequences, the punishment frequently handed down by the government against its perpetrators is far from a simple slap on the wrist. As we dissect in California “Hazing” Laws in Penal Code 245.6 PC, the criminal consequences of Hazing may entail serious time behind the slammer.

As you might imagine, the line between friendly horse-play and criminally reprehensible harassment/abuse is not always a clear one. This “gray” area perhaps highlights the greatest difficulty in “demystifying the haze surrounding hazing,” as public conceptions of appropriate banter and interactive social behavior do not always necessarily coincide with the government’s interpretation or application of the law.

So who then decides when a particular “ritual” or “prank” is off-limits or has gone too far? The prosecution certainly has the first bite at the apple, as it is they who make the initial determination of whether or not a violation of a state’s hazing laws has in fact occurred and therefore whether or not the filing of charges may be warranted.

However, convictions under a state’s hazing laws are certainly not contingent upon the subjective whims of the prosecution---as the decision on whether or not the government has overreached in its interpretation or application of the hazing laws ultimately rests in the hands of a jury.