California Penal Code 245.6 PC

PC 245.6 – California Hazing Laws

PC 245.6 - California Hazing Laws

California Hazing Laws – Table of Contents

California Penal Code Section 245.6 PC – Overview

Under Penal Code 245.6 in California law, engaging in any initiation activity that can cause severe bodily injury to a current, former, or potential student is illegal. For the crime of hazing to occur, an injury does not necessarily have to happen, just the likelihood of it occurring.

Hazing that does not lead to serious injury is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $5000 or serving one year in county jail or both. If hazing leads to a severe injury or death in an unfortunate case, it becomes a “wobbler” offense. Therefore, this crime can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

If hazing is charged as a felony, the defendant(s) can serve up to three years in a California State Prison.

Also, subject participants can face civil lawsuits for monetary damages.

How Does California Law Describe Hazing?

The legal definition of hazing as per California Law is “any method of initiation or pre-initiation into a student organization or student body (whether or not officially recognized) that is likely to cause serious bodily injury to a former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or other educational institution in California.”

Some activities are not considered to be hazing, like;

  • If the risk of physical injury is only incidental, like a student cutting their finger in a biology lab during a science club initiation.
  • The risk of physical injury is likely, but it is not severe. For example, if members of a fraternity are required to run on their knees in a pack, they might get minor abrasions on their knees.
  • The likelihood of the injury is to someone other than prospective, current, or former students like public members.
  • Some students want to be initiated into a private club or organization. However, there might be severe bodily injury, especially if the club is not a student organization, so it is not considered hazing.

Serious bodily injury” is described as a severe physical impairment or condition in California law. For example, bone fractures, loss or impairment of an organ, severe disfigurement, and concussion. Activities that cause emotional distress or embarrassment do not count as hazing.

Penal Code 245.6 is a relatively new law with few reported court decisions for guidance. The decision about when hazing will likely cause serious bodily injury lies solely on the jury. Under penal code 245.6, anyone who participates in hazing and not just the students is subject to being punished under the hazing laws. These might include fraternity officials, school officials, and former fraternity members.

Penal code 245.6 allows victims of hazing to file a civil lawsuit against:

“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.”

Other crimes that are frequently charged in connection with hazing are assault (Penal Code 241 PC), battery (Penal Code 243 PC), and sexual battery (Penal Code Section 243.4(e)(1).

How Can Lawyers Defend You from Hazing Charges?

It is essential to fight back against hazing charges because apart from spending time in jail or prison, you can pay a hefty even if you did not know what you were doing was wrong. If a defendant is found guilty of hazing, even if the defendant decides to plead guilty, it is possible for a victim to later file for a civil suit that will be used against you.

If you are charged with hazing, a skilled criminal defense attorney might be able to help you do the following;

  • If you the defendant is charged with a felony, the lawyer will help your plea a bargain to a misdemeanor
  • Instead of serving time in jail, the lawyer might help you to pay a fine
  • To drastically reduce your jail time or eliminate it
  • Also, they can help you get your charges under penal code 245.6 dismissed entirely

There are many strategies that your defense attorneys use to fight hazing charges, like proving the defendant did not actively participate in any hazing or that the initiation done was not for a student body. Lastly, defense attorneys can fight hazing charges by proving to the jury that the activities weren’t likely to cause any severe bodily injury because they are only meant to embarrass the initiates.

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Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.

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Lara S.
June 4, 2018
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