California’s Hazing Laws Designed to Protect Pledging Students

Many parents helped their new college students move into their dorms these last few weeks. Colleges and universities saw another first-year class come on campus and pledge to their favorite Greek house. As rush week has just wrapped for another school year at colleges and universities across the nation, it is important to understand the laws in place to protect pledges from doing sometimes outrageous things to be accepted into their ideal fraternity or sorority. In some cases, these Greek houses may face criminal charges if the hazing falls under illegal activity per California law.

There are laws in place, and California was one of the first states to adopt these laws that prevent dangerous hazing activities that may result in injury or death. Although many hazing rituals are part of a long-held tradition that has been accepted without question until recently, some fraternity and sorority houses may need to adjust their rituals to ensure they do not violate California's existing laws.

If you are facing charges related to hazing or need to speak with a professional attorney to ensure your hazing traditions are still legal in California, contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.

Not All Hazing is Illegal in California

Hazing is not illegal unless it is part of an initiation, and the person participating will more than likely experience bodily injury. Another criterion is that the activity is not associated with a school activity or athletic event. This means that students playing sports for college may be injured, but this is not illegal because playing as an athlete in college requires many forms and documents accepting the possibility of injury while participating. Additionally, the liability will most likely fall on the school if a student is injured at a school-approved event.

The California hazing laws only apply to student groups and organizations, so if a private club had an initiation process with potentially dangerous rituals to join, the law would not protect the initiates.

Legal and Illegal Hazing Activities

It is not uncommon in fraternities for there to be some physical competition as part of the initiation. If there were to be a race or match, this would not be illegal if the standard rules were followed. However, if a pledge is asked to drink excessive alcohol, this would be illegal. Students can become very ill and even die because of alcohol poisoning, which has been identified as a significant problem in colleges and universities.

An example is blowing an air horn in a student's ear. This would be considered illegal because the ears can have permanent damage from this activity. You might be wondering what if this happened to a non-student. It could be considered assault and battery in California.

The Risk of Hazing Activities

If rush week goes off without a hitch and no students are injured, there still may have been a violation of the law, and someone may press charges. If a pledge feels they, or another student, were likely to experience bodily harm in the initiation process, this is grounds to file criminal charges in California.

Since many fraternities and sorority members are involved in the initiation process, those who are not directly responsible for illegal hazing may still face criminal charges. If someone purchases the alcohol used, they may face criminal charges for aiding and abetting. It is wise for leaders of each Greek house to regularly check with a defense attorney to ensure their hazing rituals are legal so there are no unexpected arrests or charges.

Misdemeanor and Felony Charges for Hazing in California

The hazing charges are often misdemeanors if nobody experienced injury or bodily harm. However, the crime may escalate to a felony if a student is injured. In either scenario, facing criminal charges is a scary experience, and young adults, especially college students, should not speak to authorities without an excellent and experienced attorney present. Fines and jail time are real possibilities if convicted of a hazing-related crime. Any criminal conviction can have long-term adverse effects on a young person’s life. College status will likely be interrupted, scholarships may be at risk of being revoked, and paying fines can financially devastate families trying to put their children through college.

Although pledging at a college fraternity or sorority is an exciting time for any college student, it is essential to know that in California, it is not “anything goes” during rush week. Some rush traditions go back centuries, but with student deaths and injuries happening, California holds those involved responsible for any illegal activities that take place during initiation. California has witnessed many college student deaths, and the courts take these charges seriously. If you are facing hazing charges, please get in touch with a local criminal defense attorney for a free consultation. Only a professional attorney can help get the best outcome in hazing-related cases.

If you are on the fence about hiring a defense attorney, stop thinking about it, and do it now

Hiring a criminal defense attorney like Joni Eisenstein can help you go from a place of uncertainty to freedom.