As college students begin returning to their respective schools for the Spring 2020 semester, the New Jersey Legislature is considering laws targeted at fraternity/sorority activities that endanger the health and safety of students on college campuses, such as hazing.
The laws, prompted by the 2017 hazing-related death of Tim Piazza, a 19-year-old student at Penn State, would elevate the penalties for hazing activities. Tim Piazza was a sophomore pledge at the Beta Theta fraternity at Penn State when he passed away after a night of hazing that included forced alcohol consumption.
The two bills in New Jersey, which are heading to the Senate for a vote, would make hazing-related activities that result in “serious bodily injury” a third-degree criminal offense (“Aggravated Hazing”).
Serious bodily injury is defined, generally, as bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or which causes permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function. A third-degree offense in New Jersey carries a possible sentence of three to five years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.
Currently, hazing activity that does not result in bodily injury is a disorderly persons offense that subjects an individual to up to six months in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both. Under the proposed legislation, hazing that results in bodily injury would be a fourth-degree offense. The legislation specifically provides that it would be a crime to force or coerce an individual to consume alcohol or drugs.
The proposed bill would also impose liability and fines for students, fraternal organizations, or educational institutions that knowingly or recklessly encourage or facilitate a person to commit an act of hazing.
Potential fines are for each hazing incident and $15,000 for each aggravated hazing incident. The legislation would also require educational institutions to adopt written anti-hazing policies and provide programming for the enforcement of those policies. It is intended that the proposed legislation in New Jersey will deter hazing activity and focus on the need for students, student organizations and schools to address this serious issue and avoid the tragic consequences that all too often occur when students engage in hazing activities.
A similar law was previously signed into law in Pennsylvania.