Nationwide Hazing Laws
Helping Families Get Justice for Their Children
“I want to save the victims who will quietly go along because they
want to belong.”
- The Honorable Judge Kathleen Dekker
Over the last two decades, universities have struggled with high numbers of hazing, many of which led to serious injuries or death. Our firm has represented families of young people who were robbed of their future by senseless and reckless acts of bullying. We want to bring awareness to the various ways that states have addressed (or failed to address) hazing.
Is Hazing Illegal in the United States?
As of 2019, there are 44 states that have passed laws prohibiting hazing. Of those, only 10 states have laws that explicitly make hazing a felony when it results in death or serious injury. Louisiana may soon be the 11th state to pass such a law. The remaining 33 states have anti-hazing laws that prohibit hazing…but only allow it to be punishable as a misdemeanor. Many of these laws include language that defines hazing as a method of “initiation” or “pre-initiation,” but hazing as an activity extends far beyond initiation. Other laws make it so that only students can be prosecuted for hazing, but research shows that former students can facilitate hazing, while prospective students aren’t safe from hazing either.
The following states have zero laws prohibiting or defining hazing:
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
Only 13 states have laws that make hazing a felony when resulting in death or serious injury:
- West Virginia
- New Jersey
Causing the death, injury, or mental anguish of another human being needs to be taken more seriously by the courts, and that begins with laws that take the hazing seriously.
Florida’s Law Can Lead the Nation
The Chad Meredith Act, which Attorney Bianchi helped draft, defines hazing as any action that:
- Recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student.
- Pressures or coerces students into violating the law, committing or being subject to violence, exposing themselves to the elements, or consuming any food, drug, liquor, or other substance.
- Pressures or coerces students into situations of extreme mental stress, social humiliation or exclusion, or any activity that threatens mental health or dignity.
The Chad Meredith Law also makes hazing a third-degree felony when it results in serious injury or death, and a first-degree misdemeanor when it puts victims at risk for physical injury or death.
More than a decade after the Chad Meredith case, 10 states have now criminalized hazing.
Andrew's Law "Makes a Good Law Even Better"
In April 2019, Florida lawmakers unanimously passed a bill titled Andrew's Law, named in memory of Andrew Coffey. Andrew died from hazing at an Pi Kappa Phi event in November 2017, and our firm represented the Coffey family against the fraternity and 12 other defendants. Andrew's Law was drafted by David Bianchi as an improvement on the Chad Meredith Act. Now, Andrew's Law will keep new generations of students safe from the excesses of fraternity culture.
Andrew's Law strengthens the Chad Meredith Act in multiple ways, including:
- Providing for prosecution of event coordinators where hazing causes injury, even if coordinators don't attend
- Providing for immunity under the hazing statute to the first person who calls 911 or administers aid to a hazing victim
- Granting immunity only if the 911 caller cooperates with law enforcement
- Provides for prosecution of hazing that causes permanent damage
The bill was officially signed into law by Governor DeSantis in June 2019.
Parents of Andrew Coffey Create Anti-Hazing Pamphlet to Prevent Tragedy
Preventing hazing doesn't just require the law. It also requires the efforts of people like Tom and Sandra Coffey, who lost their son to hazing in 2017. Since Andrew's death at a Pi Kappa Phi event, they've devoted themselves to arming students with the information that might have saved their son.
Their pamphlet "Hazed" includes information on:
- The signs of alcohol poisoning
- The red flags of hazing
- How hazing escalates over time
- The legal consequences of hazing nationwide
The Future Is Coming: National Criminalization of Hazing
Last June, a bipartisan bill was introduced to the House of Representatives that would require colleges to track and report hazing. It would also require them to provide education to students about the dangers and signs of hazing. It's a welcome change. Most students who suffer hazing aren't even aware that it's happening. However, this bill limits hazing reporting to incidents committed due to initiation in or affiliation with an organization connected with the university—essentially, any fraternity or campus club. For the purpose of the reporting bill, that's important. However, the Chad Meredith Act (and likely the federal statute too) makes it clear that it is not a valid defense to claim that the "hazing" took place apart from any organization or official organization event. Our law also made it clear that it wouldn't matter if the hazing took place in connection to initiation or affiliation with a club—any kind of coercion would be a criminal offense.
The bipartisan bill is currently in committee before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Hazing Lawyers Advocating Nationwide
Our firm is wholly committed to stopping the fatal or harmful coercion of individuals. Lives are being cut short due to harmful, meaningless risk-taking in the name of "brotherhood," and it enrages us. It should enrage universities and leaders around the nation as well. We look forward to the day that students will be able to enjoy campus life without harassment, fear, or bullying. Until that day, we'll continue faithfully securing justice for the victims of hazing nationwide.
Call (305) 770-6335 to learn if you have a case or use our online form to schedule a free consultation. We are here to provide a voice to victims and fight for justice.