Hazing can carry harsh punishments depending on the circumstances involved.
What is the legal definition of Hazing?
Hazing is defined in NRS 200.605.
- A person who engages in hazing is guilty of:
- A misdemeanor, if no substantial bodily harm results.
- A gross misdemeanor, if substantial bodily harm results.
- Consent of a victim of hazing is not a valid defense to a prosecution conducted.
- For the purposes of this section, an activity shall be deemed to be “forced” if initiation into or affiliation with a student organization, academic association or athletic team is directly or indirectly conditioned upon participation in the activity.
- As used in this section, “hazing” means an activity in which a person intentionally or recklessly endangers the physical health of another person for the purpose of initiation into or affiliation with a student organization, academic association or athletic team at a high school, college or university in this state. The term:
- Includes, without limitation, any physical brutal treatment, including, without limitation, whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements or forced consumption of food, liquor, drugs or other substances.
- Does not include any athletic, curricular, extracurricular or quasi-military practice, conditioning or competition that is sponsored or approved by the high school, college or university.
Isn’t hazing just a typical part of the college experience and fraternities?
Not really. Movies and television have given the impression that joining a fraternity or sorority is like joining the military, and that you have to go through “hazing” rituals in order to develop a bond with your brothers or sisters. This is absolutely not the case, though.
Hazing is a dangerous and unnecessary part of a larger act often called “initiation” or “rushing.” Initiation often takes forms that are not inherently dangerous and still serve to build bonds between those being initiated.
So, then what exactly is “hazing”?
“Hazing” has three distinct elements:
- An intentional activity;
- Done as part of initiation into a club, team or organization;
- That intentionally or recklessly endangers the physical health of those seeking initiation.
The first two elements should be fairly clear. The third element, on the other hand, is incredibly vague.
The types of actions or activities that can be considered hazing include:
- Physical abuse – Paddling, whipping, hitting or kicking, or any other activity that would constitute an “assault” (an unlawful touching that is offensive to a reasonable person. For a more in-depth discussion of “assault” please click here).
- Forced consumption of food, alcohol, or drugs – being forced to eat or drink something that is either offensive to a reasonable person (something “gross” or that would make the person sick or have an allergic reaction), or being forced to eat or drink something in a manner that is offensive to a reasonable person (including over eating or drinking, or eating or drinking from something that would be offensive, like drinking from a used shoe).
- Forced Calisthenics – being forced to exercise beyond reasonable means. If the initiation is for an organization that doesn’t require physical fitness, then any forced calisthenics could be considered “hazing.” However, for a sports team, there is clearly some leniency provided as members would be required to exercise as part of the sport.
- Forced exposure – making someone endure extreme heat or cold without proper attire, or forcing someone to expose more of their body than they are comfortable with.
- Public Humiliation – this also includes exposing more of someone’s body than they may be comfortable with, but can also include making some dress in inappropriate clothing, drawing on them, or any other activity that a reasonable person might be embarrassed by.
- Deprivation of Sleep, food, or drink – Again, all of these actions can have severe physical effects on the victim.
That just seems like it’s part of the fun of college and joining clubs.
Generally speaking, most instances of hazing go unreported because of this attitude that “hazing” is part of the “fun.” Movies, like “Dazed and Confused,” “The Skulls,” and “Old School” glorify the “hazing” aspect of initiation and make it seem like the victims are enjoying the treatment.
Unfortunately, “hazing” can often have dangerous and permanent consequences. While initiation is often intended to be fun, the fun can go too far.
What are the possible penalties?
Aside from any civil lawsuits that may stem from “hazing,” there are criminal penalties for violating NRS 200.603. The punishment is dependent on what results from the hazing.
If the hazing did not result in substantial bodily harm, then the crime will be charged as a misdemeanor, which carries the possible penalty of:
- Up to 6 months in jail; and/or
- Possible fines up to $1,000.
If, on the other hand, the hazing did result in substantial bodily harm, then the violation will be charged as a gross misdemeanor, which carries possible penalties of:
- Up to 364 days in jail; and/or
- Possible fines up to $2,000.
If the hazing results in the death of the victim, then the violation may be charged as involuntary manslaughter or even second degree murder.
Involuntary Manslaughter is a category D felony and carries a possible penalty of:
- Between 1 and 4 years in a Nevada State Prison; and
- Possible fines up to $5,000.
Second-degree murder is a category A felony and carries a possible penalty of:
- Life in a Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years; or
- 25 years in a Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years.
Please Note: If the person alleged to have violated the “hazing” laws is under the age of 18, then the case will likely be heard in the Juvenile Court system rather than the District Courts. If found guilty, their records can be sealed when they turn 21. If the “hazing” is serious enough, the minor may be “certified” as an adult and the case may be heard in the criminal courts.
Are there any Defenses?
Yes, of course there are. In fact, “Hazing” is a vague charge. Some of the possible defenses include:
- False Allegations/Lack of Evidence – The organizations that are often charged with hazing are also organizations that people seek out to join. Often, some people are not permitted to join, no matter how much they may want to join. When this happens those excluded people may lash out and accuse the organization, or even specific members, of actions they did not commit. If your attorney can show that the allegations are untrue, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.
- No Hazing – The organizations that are often charged with hazing are also organizations that often require commitment to certain activities. Sports require exercise, and often a lot of exercise. Other clubs may require adherence to dress codes, or group activities such as a flash mob or chanting. If the prosecutor cannot prove that the actions were a threat to physical or mental health, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with Hazing?
As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.