On December 8, 2022, Pennsylvania's Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, announced that his office would be charging nine current and former football players from Mount Carmel High School located in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. The charges stem from a team ritual hazing incident that took place in 2020 at the team captain's house. At the party, the defendants hazed new team members by burning them with sparklers and lit burning sticks. The defendants, some still minors, are charged with simple assault, hazing, and intimidation of a victim. Additional students were charged with criminal conspiracy to commit hazing. As a response, the school district cut the team's football season short and will require players to participate in an annual mandatory hazing awareness course. The story highlights the dangers of peer pressure and group mentality that can overtake even the most level-headed teenager. It also serves as an important example for parents that “teenage antics” can have serious, life-altering criminal consequences.
Hazing Laws in Pennsylvania
Under the Timothy Piazza Anti-Hazing Law enacted in 2018, it is illegal in Pennsylvania to engage in any hazing activity that is not considered “reasonable and customary” for military, athletic, or law enforcement “training, contests, competitions, or events. Under the law, a person can be held criminally liable for hazing if they intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly coerce or force a minor or student to do a series of dangerous activities to initiate them into an organization. Although the law does not define every possible action that could constitute hazing, it does address several offenses in §2802(a) that may lead to criminal liability. Some of these offenses from §2802(a) are summarized as follows:
- Any activities that violate federal or state criminal law;
- Consumption of any food, liquid, alcoholic liquid, drug, or other substance which subjects the minor or student to a risk of emotional or physical harm;
- Physically brutal actions, including whipping, beating, branding, calisthenics, or exposure to the elements;
- Mentally brutal actions, 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;
- Actions that are sexually brutal in nature; and
- Endure any other activity that creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the minor or student.
Under §2803, hazing can be charged as a third-degree felony, which can result in seven years of jail time, upwards of $15,000.00 in fines, or both.
Pennsylvania Juvenile Defense Attorney
Whether your child will face juvenile criminal charges, administrative punishments from the school district, or both, varies from case to case. Regardless of whether your student is facing criminal or administrative consequences, one poor decision can alter your child's future and affect their plans for college, career, etc. If your child has been charged with hazing and you fear they may be exposed to juvenile liability, Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can help. Attorney Lento has extensive experience defending juvenile defendants and working with schools at the administrative level. Contact us today by calling (888) 535-3686 or by using our online contact form.
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