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California Hazing Law – California Penal Code PC 245.6

Posted by Raoul Severo | Oct 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

The majority of the youth, especially students, want to be a part of something. To feel camaraderie, they long to be a part of something bigger; they want to belong. Because of that desire, many students, especially college or university students, opt to join fraternities or sororities. These organizations offer brotherhood/sisterhood. Most, if not all, of these kinds of groups, usually have some initiations for the new recruits. Most of the time, these initiations are just harmless tests of courage or anything of the sort. However, sometimes it can be dire. Enter hazing. To avoid unnecessary injuries and even casualties caused by hazing, California enacted PC 245.6 or the California Hazing law.

California Hazing Law

California Penal Code PC 245.6 or California's Hazing law is the statute that criminalizes hazing. The proclamation declares it shall be unlawful to engage in all form of hazing or anything resembling the act.

PC 245.6 defines “Hazing” as any acts or forms of violence used as a method of initiation or preinitiation into a student organization or student body, whether or not the organization or body is officially recognized by an educational institution, which is likely to cause serious bodily injury to any former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or other educational institution in the state of California. The term “hazing” does not include customary athletic events or school-sanctioned events.

A Violation of the Hazing law that does not result in serious bodily injury is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100), nor more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or both. Any person who personally engages in hazing that results in death or serious bodily injury is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) California Penal Code PC 1170.

The victim of hazing may commence a civil action for injury or damages. The action may be brought against any participants in the hazing, or any organization to which the student is seeking membership whose agents, directors, trustees, managers, or officers authorized, requested, commanded, participated in, or ratified the hazing.

Serious Physical Injury

Hazing can cause harsh consequences like severe physical injuries. Serious physical injuries are those intense injuries that create significant risks of death or causes long-term, if not permanent, physical disfigurement, impairment, or loss of bodily functions.

Penalties for Hazing

Hazing under PC 245.6 is considered a criminal and civil violation. It means that the offender can face both criminal punishment and civil liabilities simultaneously.

As a criminal act, in California, hazing can be identified as a wobbler. Wobbler offenses are those criminal violations whose punishments are distinguished by the severity of the consequences. In cases without serious physical injuries or death, hazing is typically classified as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are crimes more serious than an infraction. If convicted, the offender can face:

  • A fine that is not less than one hundred dollars ($100) nor more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), and/or
  • Imprisonment in a county jail for no more than three hundred and sixty-five days (365) or one (1) year.

However, if the act of hazing resulted in serious physical injuries or death, the offense will be classified as a felony. If convicted, the offender can face:

  • Incarceration for two (2), four (4), or six (6) years, and/or
  • A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000)

The victim can also file a civil lawsuit that can make the plaintiff demand the defendant for civil damages or compensation to recover from the traumatic situation. 

Legal Defense

When faced with charges under PC 245.6, the defendant and his/her legal counsel can use the following conditions for their case:

  • The defendant was falsely accused,
  • The defendant did not engage in hazing, or
  • There was no "hazing".

False Accusation - This defense refers to the condition that the defendant was only falsely accused.

No Participation - This defense refers to the condition that the defendant did not engage or participate; neither does he/she have any knowledge about the hazing activity.

No Hazing - This defense refers to the condition that there is no enough evidence or probable cause that the hazing even actually occurred. 

Being suspected of hazing is a grave accusation. Hazing itself is a severe crime. If convicted, the accused can face criminal sentences and civil liabilities; this means that the offender will be facing incarceration or prison time. He/she will also be paying the compensations that the court sees fit. Aside from those, the offense itself will be permanently reflected on the convict's personal record. That will affect his/her chances of employment, and it will also take away some civil and social privileges. To avoid these dire outcomes, it would be the accused's party's best decision to implore the aid of a great criminal defense lawyer.

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