Hazing – California Penal Code 245.6 PC
You may be aware that hazing is prohibited among college campuses; however, many people do not know that hazing is a crime in California. Under California Penal Code 245.6, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime for hazing, resulting in serious legal consequences.
What is Hazing under California Law?
California Penal Code 245.6 defines hazing as any method of initiative or preinitiation into a student body or organization, which is likely to cause serious bodily injury to any current, former, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or educational institution in the state. This law applies to any student body or school-related organization regardless of whether it is officially recognized by an educational institution.
For example, a college fraternity is initiating a new member. They take him to a cold basement, force him to drink massive amounts of water and do exercises while being sprayed with water and cold air.
Although this example may seem like a harmless prank, this type of activity is hazardous and can result in bodily injury due to water intoxication. Such was the case for Greg Lucas, a 21-year old student of California State University, Chico, who died from water intoxication under similar circumstances in 2005. This ultimately sparked the passing of California Penal Code 245.6 in 2006.
In California, this crime is often charged with additional crimes that are related to hazing. These include:
- Assault – California Penal Code 240. Assault occurs when you commit, or attempt to commit, a violent injury on someone. Assault carries a maximum sentence of six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
- Battery– California Penal Code 242. Battery occurs when a willful and unlawful use of force or violence is enacted upon another. Battery carries a six month sentence in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
Prosecution of Hazing Charges in California
In order for you to be convicted of hazing in California, the prosecution must prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You were involved in or had influence in activity that was part of an initiation into a student body or student organization;
- You knew or reasonably should have known that the activity was likely to cause serious bodily injury; AND
- The activity was not part of a customary school-sanctioned event or athletic event.
It is important to note that the alleged victim does not actually have to suffer bodily injury. Rather, the prosecution need only prove that alleged activities were likely to cause injury.
Sentencing and Punishment for Hazing
Hazing can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony in California, depending on the circumstances of your case. Under California Penal Code 245.6(c), any hazing that does not result in serious bodily injury is a misdemeanor. Under California Penal Code 245.6(d), if you engage in hazing that results in serious bodily injury or death, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony.
If you are convicted of misdemeanor hazing, you face a sentence of up to 364 days in county jail, a fine of up to $5,000 or both jail and a fine. If you are convicted of felony hazing, you face a sentence of 16 months, two or three years in county jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both jail and a fine.
Possible Defenses to Hazing Charges
If you have been charged with hazing in California, a skilled criminal defense attorney can raise several defenses on your behalf. These defenses include:
- The activity does not fit the legal definition of hazing. If the alleged victim of hazing is a current or long-standing member of the student group or student body, then the activity may not qualify as hazing. The law is also clear that you cannot be found guilty of hazing for engaging in activities that are included in school sanctioned events or athletic events. Thus, you should not be convicted of hazing under California law if the alleged activities do not fit the legal definition of hazing as defined under California Penal Code 245.6. However, you may still be charged with other crimes such as assault or battery.
Lack of knowledge. If you did not know or reasonably should not have known that the alleged activity was likely to cause serious bodily injury or death, then you should not be convicted of hazing in California, even if someone was injured during the activity. For example, a group of new members were ordered to tie and untie their shoes as quickly as possible for 15 minutes to pass their initiation. One person fell over and hit their head, knocking them unconscious. Even though a person was hurt during the initiation, the activity itself was not likely to cause serious bodily injury. Therefore, you should not be convicted of hazing.
- You had no influence in the alleged hazing. If you did not take part in the alleged hazing activities or did not have influence in such activities, you should not be convicted of this crime. For example, suppose you are the president of your fraternity and are leaving town for a couple of days, so you order your fraternity brothers to put the new members through a series of moderate initiation exercises while you are absent. However, your fraternity brothers take things too far and push the new members beyond their physical limitations without proper hydration. One member becomes ill and is hospitalized due to dehydration. In this case, your attorney can argue that, although you were responsible for the initiation activities, you had no influence in the level of intensity that your fraternity brothers had put the new members through.
Frequently Asked Questions on California Hazing Laws
At Wallin & Klarich, we frequently receive questions regarding hazing laws in California. These include:
To attend a party thrown by my senior class, freshmen students were required to cross a busy highway blindfolded. Does this count as hazing?
Yes, under California Penal Code 245.6, this would be considered hazing because the freshmen students were required to perform an activity that was “likely to cause serious bodily injury” to gain entrance to the party thrown by the senior student body.
I am part of a local club in which the initiation into the group requires prospective new members to get into a street fight with another member and win. Is this criminal hazing?
Hazing only pertains to initiations for entrance into a student body or student organization, it does not apply to organizations or groups outside of the educational setting. However, this club could be subject to criminal and/or civil legal consequences.
Some of my teammates and I have been suspended for bullying freshmen who are trying out for my college football team. Can I be arrested for hazing?
No, under California Penal Code Section 245.6, this does not qualify as hazing because the activity took place during football tryouts, which is an athletic event. However, you could be charged with assault and battery, depending on the circumstances of the alleged incident.
Have You Been Charged with Hazing? Call Wallin & Klarich Today
If you or a loved one has been criminally charged with hazing in California, it is critical that you contact a Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney immediately. Our skilled attorneys have over 30 years of experience successfully defending clients charged with assault and battery crimes and crimes related to hazing. We can help you, too.
With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.