Students who go off to college rarely wonder about what kind of trouble they could get into, especially students who join sororities or fraternities. Instead, they are focused on making friends, enjoying their freedom, and making sure they get good grades. But if a student is accused of hazing, they can be punished simultaneously by the university and local law enforcement.
When the school year starts, all students are given a student handbook. The handbook describes the rules, policies, and procedures that students are expected to abide by while attending. If a student violates any of those rules, the university has every right to enforce specific consequences for the action, which can have serious ramifications in other areas of their life.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm understand how hard you have worked to get into college. But if you are accused of hazing, that future you have been working towards can vanish in an instant. The best way to defend yourself is to work with an experienced student and criminal defense attorney who will gather relevant evidence and witness testimony to prove your innocence. Call Lento Law Firm today.
Crime Detection on Pennsylvania Campuses
There isn't a single college campus in the United States that is immune to crime. There is so much pressure to succeed, both personally and professionally, that students become overwhelmed and end up acting out in ways they shouldn't when trying to de-stress. Unfortunately, sometimes that unwinding can look like binge drinking, inappropriate sexual advances, or even damage to campus property. Additionally, stress can compel more intense, dangerous activities, like starting fights with other students or breaking into university buildings after hours.
Universities in Pennsylvania are very aware of how important security is to provide a safe space for students to achieve academic success. As such, they employ campus security and police to patrol the grounds and help students in distress. Additionally, the campuses are covered by security cameras. When a student is caught hazing someone on campus, campus security and police can retrieve the video footage, if there is any, and share it with law enforcement. This is why it is so important to work with a student criminal defense attorney. Attorney Lento will create a strong defense for any potential evidence that might portray you in a negative light, mitigating any negative consequences you might face, both on campus and in court.
Pennsylvania Hazing Crimes
If you are accused of hazing on campus, and the school shares this information with law enforcement, you could be charged with a criminal offense. In Pennsylvania, there is an anti-hazing law that criminalizes intentional, knowing, or reckless acts that initiate or admit a minor or student into an organization for the purpose of continuing or enhancing their membership or status, that causes, coerces, or forces them to:
- Violate a criminal law.
- Consume food, liquid, alcohol, drugs, or other substances that could emotionally or physically harm the minor or student.
- Go through physical brutalities, like whipping, beating, branding, or exposure to the elements.
- Experience mental brutality, such as activities that negatively affect their mental health or dignity or those that cause sleep deprivation, exclusion from social conduct, or extreme embarrassment.
- Experience sexual brutality.
- Or go through any other act that might cause a reasonable expectation of bodily injury.
Hazing is considered a summary law unless it causes or creates a reasonable probability that the minor or student will sustain a physical injury. Non-summary acts of hazing are considered third-degree misdemeanors.
There are other types of hazing in Pennsylvania as well, including:
- Aggravated hazing: occurs when a person commits one of the violations described above and that results in either serious bodily injury or death, and:
- the person acted with reckless indifference to the health and safety of the minor or student, or
- they caused, coerced, or forced the minor or student to consume alcohol or drugs.
- Organizational hazing: occurs when an organization intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly encourages or assists one of the scenarios described above (under hazing or aggravated hazing).
- Institutional hazing: occurs when an institution intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly encourages or assists one of the scenarios described above (under hazing or aggravated hazing).
An organization or institution accused of hazing will be subject to either a fine of not more than $5,000 for each violation under the anti-hazing law or $15,000 for each violation under aggravated hazing, which is considered a third-degree felony.
Hazing on Pennsylvania College Campuses
All colleges deal with hazing allegations differently, but they all agree that any person or organization accused of hazing should be fully investigated and potentially punished for the behavior.
For instance, at Temple University, hazing is defined similarly to the state law defined above. A student is accused of hazing if they have intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused, coerced, or forced a student to do one of the following in order to be initiated, admitted, or affiliated with an organization or to continue or enhance their membership or status in an organization:
- Violate a criminal law.
- Consume food, liquid, alcohol, drug, or other substance that puts the student at risk of emotional or physical harm.
- Get the student to endure physical, mental, or sexual brutality, such as whipping, beating, sleep deprivation, or extreme embarrassment.
- Endure any other activity that could have a reasonable likelihood of causing the student bodily injury.
- Deprive them of regular meals or personal hygiene.
- Enduring individual interrogations, having substances thrown or poured on them, activities that interfere with their attending class or studying, or harassment, restriction of personal freedom of movement, or nudity.
- Enduring sexual abuse or be forced to engage in sexual activities.
- Endure other activities which could adversely affect their health and safety.
False Reports of Hazing on Pennsylvania College Campuses
Both your college administration and local law enforcement are committing to getting justice for victims of hazing. So, when a student is accused of hazing someone else on campus, the university and police will work separately to determine if there is enough preliminary evidence or testimony to bring criminal charges or disciplinary action against the student.
There have been cases, though, where students are falsely accused of hazing. When this happens, universities will usually sanction the accuser. Sanctions might include a reprimand or suspension, depending on how egregious the accusation was. But local law enforcement can charge the accuser with false incrimination, which can carry a significant penalty if found guilty.
Defending Pennsylvania Hate Crime Charges
If you have been charged with hazing under Pennsylvania law, a criminal defense attorney will be able to help you review the charges and look for any gaps in the prosecution's argument while also creating a strong defense against the accusations. Unfortunately, whether you asked the student for consent and they relinquished it or that the conduct was approved by the school or organization prior does not matter. Both are prohibited defenses under Pennsylvania law.
For a Pennsylvania prosecutor to secure a conviction for hazing, they must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed all the elements of the crime described above. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know how to negate the prosecution's supposed proof of one or all these elements. Further, they will be able to present witness testimony and evidence that refutes the prosecution's interpretation of the facts.
Attorney Lento is an experienced criminal defense attorney who specializes in helping students overcome these types of criminal charges. He is uniquely capable of organizing evidence and witness testimony to address every element of the prosecution's case.
Pennsylvania Campus Hazing Disciplinary Procedures
Colleges and universities have different procedures for settling hazing accusations. But at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, allegations of hazing are investigated according to the procedures in the Student Handbook.
The Honor Board at Bryn Mawr is responsible for implementing and overseeing disciplinary actions. The Head of the Honor Board will inform the accused student of the upcoming hearing. During the hearing, the accused student will have an opportunity to present their side of the story, including relevant evidence and witnesses to defend themselves.
The Honor Board will review the information presented by both sides and determine whether the student is responsible for hazing the other student and which sanction to impose. Possible sanctions include restorative actions, time-limited separation from the university, disciplinary probation, removal from an organization, loss of privileges, or expulsion from the university completely.
These types of hearings are referred to as “social hearings” at Bryn Mawr and are conducted in an informal way. If the accused student disagrees with the Honor Board's decision, they have the option to appeal it. Appeals must be made within one week after the hearing has ended and can only be made if the procedure followed was questionable or the decision involved separations or exclusions. An Appeal Committee will review the appeal and determine whether the Honor Board's decision should be upheld, amended, or revoked. This decision can be further appealed to the President of the College and the President of the SGA.
If a matter is beyond the ability of the Honor Board, they will refer it to a Dean's Panel. Dean's Panel hearings are reserved for the following situations:
- Disciplinary issues that are inappropriate for the Honor Board,
- Circumstances where the safety or well-being of the students is in jeopardy, or
- Circumstances where the college's resources, policies, or property have been abused.
Students accused of hazing, if referred for a Dean's Panel, will be notified by letter or email from the chair. The letter will lay out the exact issue being reviewed and request that the accused student meets with the chair prior to the Dean's Panel. The meeting is to go through the procedures for the Dean's Panel and get the name of a support person who will be present during the hearings, as well as to obtain the names of people that the student would like included on the witness list.
During the Dean's Panel, the accused student will be able to bring witnesses and evidence to defend themselves. The Dean's Panel acts as prosecutor and interviews each witness first before giving the student a chance to do so. Once all witnesses have been interviewed, the student will be brought before the Panel for questioning.
Once the hearing has ended, the Panel will deliberate on the issue and decide if the student is responsible for hazing another student or minor. This decision is final and binding on the student unless they decide to appeal it within ten days of having received the decision or if the Panel decides that the student should be separated or excluded from the college.
Appeals for Dean's Panel decision can be made on procedural grounds or when new evidence is available now that was not reasonably available before. The President will review the appeal and all of the information submitted and determine whether to reverse the Dean's Panel's decision or require a new Dean's Panel.
How a Qualified Student Defense Attorney Can Help
Having a student criminal defense attorney in your corner will ensure your defense is able to hold up against even the most intense prosecutorial arguments. You have worked so hard to get into college and deserve the chance to preserve your place on campus.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of students around the country who have been accused of hazing on campus. They understand how nuanced these proceedings can be and how to hold both universities and the prosecution accountable. You deserve the right to defend yourself, which means you have a right to due process. Attorney Lento will ensure the college and local law enforcement do not forget that fact. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation today or visit us online.