Florida Court Rejects Argument That Hazing Statute is Unconstitutional

The statutes that criminalize behavior must be sufficiently specific to be deemed constitutional. When statutes are vague and overbroad, they can lead to improper convictions and subsequent challenges to the constitutionality of the statutes.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Florida analyzed whether a statute criminalizing hazing was overbroad in violation of the First Amendment, and ultimately determined it was not, affirming the defendant’s conviction. If you are facing criminal charges in Sarasota, it is important to retain a skilled Sarasota crime defense attorney to assist you in protecting your liberties.

Factual Background

Reportedly, the defendant was a member of the percussion section of the marching band at a Florida university. The percussion section rode to away events on a bus and engaged in a three-part ritual during their trips. The first part involved a member sitting at the front of the bus and getting struck by other band members, the second involved the member standing and holding onto the luggage rack while being slapped by other members, and the last part involved the member walking to the back of the bus while other members slapped, punched, and kicked them. The defendant, as the president of the bus, determined when a member should take part in the ritual.

It is alleged that the defendant asked the victim if he wanted to participate in the ritual, to which the victim replied that he did. When the victim made it to the back of the bus, he appeared tired but stated, “I’m good.” He later lost consciousness and was taken to a hospital, where efforts to save him were unsuccessful. Following an autopsy, it was determined the manner of the victim’s death was a homicide. The defendant was subsequently charged with and convicted of manslaughter, felony hazing resulting in death, and misdemeanor hazing. He appealed his convictions, arguing the Florida hazing statute was overbroad and vague, and therefore, unconstitutional. On appeal, his convictions were affirmed.

Showing a Statute is Overbroad and Void for Vagueness

The Florida hazing statute defined hazing as any action or situation that either intentionally or recklessly endangers the health or safety of a student, in affiliation with an organization sanctioned by a post-secondary institution. Consent is not a defense to hazing. To determine whether a statute is overbroad, a court must analyze whether it reaches a significant amount of conduct protected by the constitution. If it does not, it will not be found overbroad. The court should then analyze the claim that the statute is vague on its face and should only uphold the challenge to the statute if the statute is improperly vague in all of its applications.

Here, the court found that the defendant’s challenges to the statute as overbroad and vague failed. The defendant argued that the portion of the statute that provided consent was not a defense to hazing criminalized voluntary acts, which were protected speech and conduct. The court rejected this argument, holding that the primary focus of the statute was protecting against physical harm and that any impact on protected speech was incidental. Similarly, the court was not persuaded by the defendant’s argument that the statute was overbroad, finding there was no ambiguity in the statute’s terms. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Consult a Trusted Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney Regarding Your Case

Criminal defendants are afforded certain rights under the law. If you are a Sarasota resident charged with a crime, you should consult a trusted Sarasota criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and possible defenses to the charges you face. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorney who will fight aggressively to help you seek a favorable outcome under the circumstances. Mr. Hanlon can be reached at 727-897-5413 or via the online form to schedule a meeting.

 

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