Following the 2017 death of a Penn State student following a fraternity-related hazing incident, the state strengthened hazing laws in Pennsylvania by passing the “Timothy Piazza Anti-Hazing Law,” effective November 19, 2018. This made a number of changes to strengthen the law against hazing in Pennsylvania.

Hazing is statutorily defined as “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly, for the purpose of initiating, admitting or affiliating a minor or student into or with an organization, or for the purpose of continuing or enhancing a minor or student’s membership or status in an organization, causes, coerces or forces a minor or student to do any” of enumerated acts including:

  • Violating Federal or State criminal law;
  • Consuming any food, liquid, alcoholic liquid, drug or other substance which subjects the minor or student to a risk of emotional or physical harm;
  • Enduring brutality of a physical nature, including whipping, beating, branding, calisthenics or exposure to the elements;
  • Enduring brutality of a mental nature, including activity adversely affecting the mental health or dignity of the individual, sleep deprivation, exclusion from social contact or conduct that could result in extreme embarrassment;
  • Enduring brutality of a sexual nature; and
  • Enduring any other activity that creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the minor or student.

The law specifically states that hazing does not include reasonable and customary athletic, law enforcement or military training, contests, competitions or events.

This law applies to both institutions of higher education, which grant associate or higher academic degrees, as well as public and private schools teaching grades 7 through 12. Hazing can occur on or off campus.

Hazing is a summary offense but is a misdemeanor of the third degree if it results in or creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the minor or student. Aggravated hazing occurs when a person commits the offense of hazing that results in serious bodily injury or death to the minor or student and the offender acts with reckless indifference to the health and safety of the minor or student or the offender causes, coerces or forces the consumption of an alcoholic liquid or drug by the minor or student. Aggravated hazing is a felony of the third degree, a serious crime accompanied by significant penalties – up to seven years in prison — and for which an experienced attorney is critical.

Organizational hazing occurs when an organization intentionally, knowingly or recklessly promotes or facilitates the offense of hazing. This can result in a fine up to $5,000 for each violation or a fine up to $15,000 if there was aggravated hazing.  The new offense of institutional hazing occurs when an institution intentionally, knowingly or recklessly promotes or facilitates a hazing offense, exposing it to significant monetary fines. Aggravated hazing and organizational hazing may be accompanied by forfeiture of the property which was involved in the violation. This means, for example, that a fraternity that violates the law could lose its house in civil forfeiture proceedings.

Hazing laws in Pennsylvania explicitly bar an offender charged under the anti-hazing law from raising the defense that the consent of the minor or student was sought or obtained or that the conduct was sanctioned or approved by the institution, secondary school or organization.

The law imposes on all educational institutions and secondary schools a number of obligations. For instance, they must adopt a written policy against hazing, adopt rules prohibiting students from engaging in hazing, inform students of the school’s policy, and post the policy on the school’s publicly accessible Internet website. The law authorizes educational institutions to impose penalties for hazing which may include:

  • The imposition of fines.
  • The withholding of diplomas or transcripts pending compliance with the rules or payment of fines.
  • The rescission of permission for the organization to operate on campus or school property or to otherwise operate under the sanction or recognition of the institution or secondary school.
  • The imposition of probation, suspension, dismissal or expulsion.

In addition, criminal penalties may be imposed upon the offender.

The new law imposes a duty on educational institutions to maintain a publicly-accessible report of all violations of the institution’s anti-hazing policy. This report includes such information as a general description of the violation, any investigation by the institution and, if applicable, penalties handed down. These reports are available to the public in the Internet. Simply google the name of the institution, the year for which information is sought, and “Pennsylvania hazing report” and you will be able to view all the reported hazing incidents at the school that took place during that time period.

Recognizing that students may be reluctant to contact authorities about a intoxicated friend for fear of getting in trouble, the law provides a “safe harbor” provision which protects any individual who seeks medical attention for another as a result of hazing of underage alcohol consumption. However, this exception has a number of prerequisites; for instance, the individual must provide his or her own name to the 911 operator or campus security officer and must stay with the person needing medical assistance until authorities arrive. Likewise, the person needing medical attention is also protected from criminal prosecution for certain alcohol offenses under particular conditions.

Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing law is now among the strictest in the nation. If you or someone you care about has been charged under this provision, you need to talk with an experienced lawyer who can be sure to collect all relevant documents and information impacting the case and assess whether the charges should be dropped, plea negotiations would be fruitful, or whether a winning defense can be advanced at trial.  Call * to schedule a free consultation with Attorney *.