Kush Arora is an Annapolis criminal attorney who covers DUI cases, as well as defendants who have been charged with a variety of other criminal offenses.
We often think of it as an accepted part of the college scene—fraternity leaders force trembling young freshmen to undergo a series of humiliating and frightening ordeals in order to prove themselves worthy of membership. The situation is not nice, but it is normal in many people’s minds.
But as it turns out, it’s illegal as well. And fraternity leaders can be held liable for hazing that goes on in their fraternities even if they’re not directly involved in the practice itself.
Recently two 21-year-old students at Towson University were charged by police with reckless endangerment and with violating Maryland laws that prohibit hazing. The charges followed a police investigation into an incident at the university on March 31.
According to The Baltimore Sun, during an initiation rite for Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, “the victim was made to perform strenuous workouts, recite knowledge of the fraternity and drink unknown substances.” (Dunn, Andrew. “Police Charge Two Towson Students in Fraternity Hazing Incidents.” The Baltimore Sun. July 27, 2016. www.baltimoresun.com)
Some time afterward, a 19-year-old student subjected to the hazing process grew ill and sought hospital treatment.
The police charges do not indicate that the two students charged as a result of the incident were directly involved in the hazing procedures, but they were found to be present at the time. Police reported that one of the students charged was “responsible for overseeing events and ensuring the safety of TKE pledges” while the other was “responsible for the communication with an oversight of the TKE pledges.”
In addition, investigators determined that the second student discouraged the victim from obtaining medical treatment or telling anyone about the cause of his injuries. Police also determined that while the victim was in the hospital, the second student removed TKE-associated items from his dorm room.
The two students were released on bail in the amounts of $35,000 and $50,000 respectively. Both will face trial in Towson District Court in September and the episode remains under investigation by police.
Many people are unaware that the state of Maryland has enacted a statute that specifically prohibits hazing in a school setting. Section 3-607 of the Maryland Criminal Code states that “a person may not recklessly or intentionally do an act or create a situation that subjects a student to the risk of serious bodily injury for the purpose of an initiation into a student organization of a school, college, or university.”
And it doesn’t matter whether the student consents to undertake the act or be subjected to the situation – the student’s consent provides no defense according to the statute. The penalty for violating this law includes a prison term of up to six months plus a fine of up to $500.00. (Md. Code, Crim. Law §3-607)
Maryland legislators have tried to increase the penalties for hazing to include fines of up to $5000, so that could signal a trend of increasingly serious treatment for those connected with incidents deemed to be related to hazing.
Maryland defense attorney Kush Arora commented, “Students involved in fraternities need to be especially vigilant regarding their behavior as anti-hazing laws have become more forceful and universities trend towards zero-tolerance policies.”
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