On October 19, 2018, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 1090 into law in response to the hazing death of Timothy Piazza. Pennsylvania now has one of the strictest anti-hazing laws in the nation.

The legislation adds Chapter 28 to the Pennsylvania Crimes Code under Sections 2801-2811 and will be effective on November 18, 2018. The law creates new classifications of hazing activity in Pennsylvania designed to protect students from suffering harm before and after the pledging process required for membership into fraternities and sororities. Fraternity or sorority traditions that were once exempt from legal scrutiny will now serve as the basis for criminal charges moving forward.

The law creates four separate classifications of hazing: hazing, aggravated hazing, institutional hazing and organizational hazing. The law further creates a self-harbor provision for underage drinking offenses.

What is Hazing in Pennsylvania?

Hazing in PA is defined at 18 Pa.C.S. 2802 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. A person commits this offense if he or she intentionally, knowingly or recklessly, for the purpose of initiating, admitting or affiliating a minor or student into an organization, or for the purpose of continuing or enhancing a minor or student’s membership or status in an organization, causes, coerces or forces a minor or student to do any of the following:

  • Violate state or federal criminal law;

  • Consume any food, liquid, alcoholic liquid, drug or other substance which subjects the minor or student to a risk of physical or emotional harm;

  • Endure brutality of a physical nature, including whipping, beating, branding, calisthenics or exposure to the elements;

  • Endure brutality of a mental nature, including activity adversely affecting the mental health or dignity of the individual, sleep deprivation, exclusion from social contact or conduct that could result in extreme embarrassment;

  • Endure brutality of a sexual nature; or

  • Endure any other activity that creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the minor or student.

The prohibited conduct listed above does not include reasonable and customary athletic, law enforcement or military training.

Hazing is generally graded as a summary offense punishable by a maximum sentence of 90 days of incarceration. However, the grading of the offense increases to a 3rd Degree Misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of up to 1 year in jail if the conduct results in or creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the minor or student.

What is Aggravated Hazing in Pennsylvania?

Aggravated Hazing is found at 18 Pa.C.S. 2803. A person commits an Aggravated Hazing offense if he commits a standard hazing offense as defined above where a student or minor sustains serious bodily injury or death, and the person does one of the following:

  • Acts with reckless indifference to the health and safety of the minor or student; or

  • Causes, coerces or forces the minor or student to consume alcohol or drugs.

An Aggravated Hazing offense is graded as a 3rd Degree Felony punishable by a maximum sentence of up to 7 years in jail.

What is Organizational Hazing in Pennsylvania?

Organizational Hazing is found at 18 Pa.C.S. 2804. An organization is defined as a fraternity, sorority, association, corporation, order, society, corps, club or service, social or similar group, whose members are primarily minors, students or alumni of the organization, an institution or secondary school. An organization also includes a national or international organization with which a fraternity or sorority or other organization is affiliated. In lay terms, an organization is a fraternity, sorority and its national chapter.

An organization that intentionally, knowingly or recklessly promotes or facilitates a hazing violation can be held responsible for organizational hazing. This offense is punishable by the following:

  • A fine of no more than $5,000 for each hazing violation;

  • A fine of no more than $15,000 for each aggravated hazing violation;

  • Potential forfeiture of property involved in the hazing to which the defendant-organization was convicted.

Both the fraternity, sorority and it’s national chapter can be subject to fines and the forfeiture of the fraternity or sorority house if convicted under this section.

Is it a defense if the minor or student consents to hazing?

Section 2806 sets forth defenses that are prohibited under the hazing statute. Prohibited defenses are:

  • That consent of the minor or student was sought or obtained

  • That the conduct was approved or sanctioned by any institution, secondary school or organization (i.e. fraternity or sorority).

What type of conduct can constitute hazing in Pennsylvania?

As the statute will not go into effect until November of 2018, it will take time before case law develops in this area. To prove hazing, the Commonwealth prove that an actor had a certain mindset (acted intentionally, knowingly or recklessly) in coercing, causing or forcing a student or minor to engage in prohibited conduct for the purpose of initiating, admitting or affiliating a minor or student into an organization, or for the purpose of continuing or enhancing a minor or student’s membership or status.

With this broad definition, it is possible to conceive of many scenarios where fraternity or sorority members could be charged with hazing, which may include:

  • Enforcement of any policy, informal or otherwise, where a pledge is caused, coerced or forced to drink alcohol while underage or use drugs;

  • Causing, forcing or coercing a pledge to do something illegal, including theft, vandalism, underage drinking, possession of narcotics, or other criminal code violations;

  • Causing, forcing or coercing a pledge to consume excessive quantities of food or liquid, or consuming such liquid or food which places them at risk of danger;

  • Causing, forcing or coercing a pledge to do something that is extremely embarrassing;

  • Forced physical challenges or calisthenics, such as running, pushups, and related behavior;

  • Causing, forcing or coercing a pledge to engage in nudity, consensual or non-consensual sexual activity.

  • Physical abuse, such as paddling or subjecting pledges to the elements;

  • Mentally abusive behavior, such as pledge activities designed to “shame” pledges, or deprive them of sleep;

  • Excluding pledges from engaging in social contact with others, such as barring pledges from parties and events;

  • A pledge is injured, or placed at a reasonable risk of injury while performing activities required as part of the pledging process.

What should I do if I’m charged with or being investigated for Hazing in PA?

With the passage of the new law, our legislature has made it clear that they are cracking down on instances of hazing. If you are a fraternity or sorority member being investigated for hazing in PA, call a criminal defense attorney immediately! DO NOT talk to any member of law enforcement, representatives from your national chapter, college or university without representation, as your statements will be used against you in a criminal prosecution.

Whether it’s a summary offense, or a more serious misdemeanor or felony offense, you need qualified, aggressive representation from start to finish. If you are under investigation or have been charged with Hazing in Western Pennsylvania, call the Zuckerman Law Firm at 412-447-5580. Attorney Zuckerman is a former fraternity member who has represented students from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, Carlow College, and related universities on summary, misdemeanor and felony cases.

For a free consultation, call Attorney Zuckerman at 412-447-5580.