In our society, we commonly go through many rituals and rites of passage as we live our lives. From high school and college graduation ceremonies to religious acts of worship, we look at these rituals as normal in our everyday lives. Sometimes, a specific sort of initiation ritual is required to join a group or association. When the initiation activities go too far and people are subject to harm, those activities can be considered criminal under New Jersey law. If you are facing an allegation of hazing, then make sure you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
What is Hazing?
Hazing is generally thought of as being a crime that only happens on college campuses during initiation into fraternities and sororities. While hazing does occur on campus, it is far from the only place that hazing occurs. Hazing involves any activity that can put someone in danger of bodily injury while he or she is being initiated into a group of some kind. This can occur among friends, classmates, or work colleagues in a variety of settings. Any organization that has an initiation process or ritual is subject to the hazing law and will be prosecuted if anyone is placed in harm's way.
What New Jersey Laws are There Against Hazing?
Depending on the alleged facts and circumstances of an initiation ritual, an individual can face hazing charges under New Jersey law. In New Jersey, there are two specific statutes that outline the laws against hazing, they are:
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:40-3a – Hazing: Under this section of the statute, a person is guilty of hazing if:
- The person knowingly or recklessly organizes, promotes, facilitates or engages in any conduct, other than competitive athletic events, which places, or may place another person in danger of bodily injury; and
- The actions are made in connection with the initiation of applicants to or members of a student or fraternal organization.
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:40-3b – Aggravated Hazing: Under this section of the statute, a person is guilty of hazing if:
- The person knowingly or recklessly organizes, promotes, facilitates or engages in any conduct, other than competitive athletic events, which places, or may place another person in danger of bodily injury;
- The actions are made in connection with the initiation of applicants to or members of a student or fraternal organization; and
- A serious injury results to another person.
Both hazing and aggravated hazing can result in significant jail time if an individual is convicted. Hazing convictions will also appear on your public criminal record and will stay there unless you are able to later expunge or remove it in some way.
What Factors Are Considered in Examining a Hazing Complaint?
What makes a hazing complaint different from a typical complaint for assault or other harm is that the alleged victim is attempting to join an organization or club of some kind when the harm occurs. Since there are typically several people involved in hazing incidents, there are often many potential witnesses and defendants. The organization and its purpose will likely be investigated along with any rules or requirements regarding joining the organization as a member. The level of potential harm and humiliation will be examined, especially when it appears that the organization or its members are exerting power or control over candidates for membership. If a candidate is forced to drink unsafe levels of alcohol or is assaulted by organization members, then those involved can be charged with hazing or aggravated hazing if the individual suffered injuries. Any previous complaints or information about prior conduct can also be investigated to determine if the organization has a pattern of conduct related to hazing.
What are the Potential Punishments for Hazing in New Jersey?
Hazing and aggravated hazing are charged and punished at different levels under New Jersey law. Hazing charges under the first section of the statute are disorderly persons offenses. A conviction for a disorderly persons offense can result in up to 6 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
Aggravated hazing charges are found in the second section of the statute and they are fourth-degree crimes. A conviction for a fourth-degree offense is the equivalent of what is also known as a felony. There is no presumption of jail time for a fourth-degree offense, but you can still face up to 18 months in prison if you are convicted. Fourth-degree offenses also carry potential fines that can be as high as $10,000.
Other punishments can include probation, community service, drug testing, and any other requirements that the court sees fit. If an individual is sentenced to probation instead of jail, then any violations of probation can result in jail time up to the maximum sentence allowable under the offense.
Collateral Consequences of a Hazing Conviction
If you are convicted of a crime such as hazing, then you can suffer many consequences in addition to the sentence handed down by the court. Criminal convictions last on your record far longer than any potential jail or prison time that can accompany a hazing or aggravated hazing conviction. If you have a conviction for hazing, then you will likely have difficulty finding employment or housing because many employers and landlords conduct background checks when they decide to hire or lease. Having an assaultive crime on your record, such as hazing, is something that you should want to avoid at all costs.
Defenses to Hazing
While some actions may be considered hazing under New Jersey law, others may not qualify under the statute. The main thing to take away from the hazing statute is that the activity of the organization members must put the candidate in front of potential or actual harm. If a candidate feels ashamed or humiliated by the conduct of the organization members, then that conduct may not be hazing if there is no threat of potential or actual bodily harm. The main focus of the hazing statute is that of safety. The court will allow ritualistic actions that are not harmful as long as they don't break any other laws.
Another potential defense is that the activity in question is simply not harmful or potentially harmful. If the activity that is being alleged does not put the candidate in the way of physical harm, then that activity is likely not hazing under New Jersey law.
It is important to understand that under New Jersey Statutes 2C:40-4, consent is not available as a defense to hazing. What this means is that nobody can consent to be hazed. Control is a major part of the anti-hazing laws, and a victim giving consent to be hazed or harmed goes against public policy and the spirit of the statute.
How an Attorney Can Help with a Hazing Charge
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you in several ways if you are charged with a crime like hazing. Firstly, an experienced lawyer can evaluate your case and determine what possible legal defenses you may have. Next, a lawyer can lead an independent investigation to help get a full picture of the story behind the allegations. If the police obtained evidence in violation of the law or your constitutional rights, then your lawyer can bring this to the judge's attention to potentially have the evidence suppressed from your case.
If you are being wrongfully accused, then an experienced defense attorney can help outline your defense approach to help put you in the best position for success. Make sure that you don't speak to anyone about your side of the story as those people can be subpoenaed to testify against you in court. The only person that you should speak to is your attorney. Hazing allegations can involve many people, and it is important that you remain silent to avoid potential conflicting stories that can be misinterpreted as evidence of guilt.
It is important to understand all of the alleged and actual facts and circumstances of your case so you can make a confident and strong decision on how to move forward. If you have legal questions, then the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are standing by to help!
Visit the Lento Law Firm's companion site - StudentDisciplineDefense.com - for more information about attorney Joseph D. Lento's experience in representing college and university students nationwide for hazing offenses, Title IX sexual misconduct charges, Code of Conduct disciplinary violations, and academic misconduct charges.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you are facing a criminal charge related to hazing in New Jersey, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Hazing charges are treated seriously by prosecutors and judges and cases typically find their way into the news. Understanding the factors of your hazing charge is critical to preparing the appropriate defense strategy. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and knowledge that you need to help you find success defending your case. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are the right choice to help you, call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.