January 16th, 2018

Pennsylvania’s Criminal Hazing Law

Hazing Injuries & Deaths in Pennsylvania – A Growing Problem?

Hazing in Pennsylvania colleges and even middle and high schools is a serious problem. In 2017, a student at Penn State died during an alcohol-fueled hazing event, and several students from a NY college were sentenced to jail for the hazing death of a fraternity pledge at an event in the Poconos.

Related News: Pennsylvania Attorney Files Lawsuit Against PA College and Fraternity for Assault, Murder of Student

In both cases, fraternity members were accused of failing to seek medical attention after pledges sustained major injuries during the hazing events. In the case involving Penn State, dozens of charges have been filed. In both cases, the national fraternities were charged, in addition to the actual members of the fraternity who were present when the hazing events took place. In the case involving the NY college, four members of the fraternity received jail terms, and the national fraternity received a six figure fine and was also banned from operating a chapter in the state for 10 years.

In addition to these fatal hazing cases, there have been multiple criminal cases involving alcohol or drugs at college events involving hazing or similar rituals. Increasingly, these cases have received widespread media attention across the country and locally. Last Fall, a fraternity in New Jersey was accused of adding drugs to alcohol served at a party with a sorority. Source: http://www.phillyvoice.com/suspended-rutgers-frat-drugged-sorority-sisters-drinks-xanax-report-says/.

Antihazing (Criminal) Law in Pennsylvania – Applies to Colleges and Middle/High Schools (7th-12th Grade)

In Pennsylvania, the hazing law is laid out in the Education Code, Title 24 of the Pennsylvania Statutes. Scroll below for Pennsylvania’s Antihazing Law. Under the law, hazing is a 3rd degree misdemeanor, and the definition of hazing includes:

  • brutality, such as whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug or other substance, and
  • forced physical activity which could adversely affect the physical health and safety of the individual, such as sleep deprivation.

In 2016, amendments expand the hazing law, so that they now apply to secondary schools, defined as any public or private school (grades 7 through 12).

The amendments, which took effect on July 25, 2016, also expand the definition of hazing to apply to any persons, not just students and also expanded the penalties to include expulsion. Lastly, the amendments mandate the adoption of antihazing policies by secondary schools and also require schools to provide the policies to sports coaches.

Unfortunately, the new laws do not provide penalties for schools when they fail to follow the law with respect to adopting antihazing policies. However, civil lawsuits for hazing can be filed. Learn more about college injury lawsuits.

Pennsylvania’s Antihazing Law *Current as of January 2018

Title 24 Pennsylvania Statutes Education § 5352. Definitions

The following words and phrases when used in this act shall have the meanings given to them in this section unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

“Hazing.” Any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a person or which willfully destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in, any organization. The term shall include, but not be limited to, any brutality of a physical nature, such as whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug or other substance, or any other forced physical activity which could adversely affect the physical health and safety of the individual, and shall include any activity which would subject the individual to extreme mental stress, such as sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, forced conduct which could result in extreme embarrassment, or any other forced activity which could adversely affect the mental health or dignity of the individual, or any willful destruction or removal of public or private property. For purposes of this definition, any activity as described in this definition upon which the initiation or admission into or affiliation with or continued membership in an organization is directly or indirectly conditioned shall be presumed to be “forced” activity, the willingness of an individual to participate in such activity notwithstanding.

“Institution of higher education” or “institution.” Any public or private institution within this Commonwealth authorized to grant an associate degree or higher academic degree.

“Secondary school.” Any public or private school within this Commonwealth providing instruction in grades 7 through 12 or any combination of those grades.

Title 24 Pennsylvania Statutes Education § 5353. Hazing prohibited

Any person who causes or participates in hazing commits a misdemeanor of the third degree.

Title 24 Pennsylvania Statutes Education § 5354. Enforcement by institution and secondary school

a) Antihazing policy.–

(1) Each institution and each governing board of a secondary school shall adopt a written antihazing policy and, pursuant to that policy, shall adopt rules prohibiting students or other persons associated with any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by the institution or secondary school from engaging in any activity which can be described as hazing.
(2) Each secondary school shall provide a copy of the written antihazing policy, its rules, penalties and program of enforcement to all athletic coaches involved in organizations within the secondary school.
(3) Each governing board of a secondary school shall post its written antihazing policy on its publicly accessible Internet website.

(b) Enforcement and penalties.–

(1) Each institution and each governing board of a secondary school shall provide a program for the enforcement of such rules and shall adopt appropriate penalties for violations of such rules to be administered by the person or agency at the institution or secondary school responsible for the sanctioning or recognition of such organizations.
(2) Such penalties may 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, dismissal or expulsion.
(3) In the case of an organization which authorizes hazing in blatant disregard of such rules, penalties may also include recision of permission for that organization to operate on campus or other school property or to otherwise operate under the sanction or recognition of the institution or secondary school.
(4) All penalties imposed under the authority of this section shall be in addition to any penalty imposed for violation of section 3  or any of the criminal laws of this State or for violation of any other institutional or secondary school rule to which the violator may be subject.
(5) Rules adopted pursuant hereto shall apply to acts conducted on or off campus or other school property whenever such acts are deemed to constitute hazing.

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