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Florida Court Reverses Dismissal of Felony Hazing Charges in Coffey Case

On the night of November 2, 2017, Andrew Coffey attended his fraternity’s “Big Brother Night” and ultimately died after being coerced to consume an entire bottle of 101-proof bourbon, which was provided to him as a part of a long-standing fraternity tradition. We at Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A. represented Andrew’s parents in the civil case and filed suit against the fraternity, nine fraternity members, the chapter adviser, and the two individuals that rented the off-campus house where the incident occurred. That case has since settled.

Felony Charges Were Initially Dismissed Against 3 Fraternity Members

In addition to the civil claims that were filed against them, the nine fraternity members also faced criminal charges for violating Florida’s anti-hazing law. Six fraternity members pled guilty and served jail time. Three members, however, fought the charges. The trial court subsequently dismissed the charges for felony hazing but permitted the State’s claim for misdemeanor violations of Florida’s anti-hazing law to proceed.

In a victory for anti-hazing advocates and parents of college students, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the felony charges, finding that the State alleged sufficient facts to show that the fraternity members committed felony hazing. Notably, one of the defendants, Mr. Petagine, the fraternity president, was not present at the Big Brother Night but could still be charged with a felony because he presided over the fraternity and was aware of, and encouraged, the hazing event to take place.

This is good news for everyone who is trying to stop senseless fraternity hazing deaths. The court’s decision is a vindication of our law firm’s efforts to hold the perpetrators responsible.

David Bianchi from our firm is quoted in the Tallahassee Democrat on the court’s decision and, in addition to having represented Andrew’s Coffey’s parents along with Michael Levine from our firm, was one of the drafters of the law that was addressed in today’s court opinion.

We hope that the Court’s ruling sends a clear message that hazing will not be tolerated.