With the prosecution of 11 students at Virginia Commonwealth University, the debate over criminal penalties for hazing is making national news again.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, Collin’s Law went into effect on October 7th, increasing penalties for hazing charges under Ohio state law. It seems like there is renewed interest around the country in cracking down on the epidemic of college hazing.
But what do these legal changes mean for college students, and for others facing criminal hazing charges? Experienced criminal defense attorney Max Hiltner explains below.
What is hazing?
For several decades, concerned groups have recognized hazing as a problem on college campuses on the national scale. Hazingprevention.org defines hazing with the following terms:
- any act of harassment or ridicule
- that risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team
- regardless of the person’s willingness to participate
Hazing is usually used as a form of initiation into a group, and is associated with college fraternities and sororities.
Several high-profile student deaths have been linked to hazing incidents in recent years, sparking renewed concern over the wellbeing of students in Greek organizations.
Two incidents made headlines in Ohio in recent years:
- In March, Stone Foltz, a student at Bowling Green State University, died from alcohol poisoning in connection with a hazing incident. 8 men were charged with manslaughter and hazing charges, and as of September 16, one of them has pleaded guilty.
- In 2018, Collin Wiant, a student at Ohio State University, died from asphyxiation after inhaling a whippit canister in connection with a hazing incident. His family’s advocacy was largely responsible for the passing of Collin’s Law in July of this year.
And several incidents have made national headlines throughout the country:
- In February, Adam Oakes, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, died from alcohol poisoning. The incident made national headlines recently after 8 students were arrested for hazing charges in September.
- In 2017, Max Gruver, an LSU student from Georgia, died from alcohol poisoning in connection with a hazing incident.Advocacy around his death led to the passing of the Max Gruver Act in Georgia earlier this year.
In the past, hazing was considered a fourth-degree misdemeanor under the Ohio criminal code. However, as of October 7th, Collin’s Law has increased the severity of hazing charges. And, as in the case of Stone Foltz’s death, defendants in hazing cases can even face more serious felony charges like manslaughter.
Hazing charges in Ohio
- Hazing is by default a second-degree misdemeanor, which means it is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750.
- Hazing is considered a third-degree felony when it includes “coerced consumption of alcohol or drugs of abuse resulting in serious physical harm,” which means it is punishable by up to 36 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Failure to report a hazing incident is by default a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which means it is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $250.
- Failure to report bumps up to a first-degree misdemeanor if the hazing causes serious harm, which means it is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Manslaughter is a criminal charge one step down from murder. Involuntary manslaughter specifically applies when the defendant did not intend to kill the person they were attacking.
In Ohio, involuntary manslaughter is prohibited by Section 2903.04 of the Ohio Revised Code, and it can carry different penalties depending on the circumstances:
- First-degree involuntary manslaughter: The crime is considered a first-degree felony if it is done in connection with a separate felony, which means it is punishable by up to 11 to 16 and a half years in prison.
- Third-degree involuntary manslaughter: The crime is considered a third-degree felony if it is done in connection with a separate misdemeanor.
Contact Max Hiltner for help with your defense today
Our team at Hiltner Trial Lawyers knows all about defending against manslaughter charges. If you are being charged with a crime as a result of your participation in an alleged hazing incident, there’s no better defense firm in Ohio to represent you. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and discuss your case.