Hazing is a ritual of subjecting certain members of an organization, particularly new members, to ridicule, embarrassment or harassment with the potential to cause physical and/or emotional harm. State laws and institutional regulations prohibit the practice, but it still occurs with some frequency among student organizations, particularly fraternities. The deaths of multiple students across the country allegedly due to hazing have drawn attention to the activity in recent years.

At Florida State University, a 20-year-old fraternity pledge died in 2017 after an off-campus party that involved heavy drinking. Two former fraternity members, as well as the former chapter president, have taken their cases to the state Supreme Court to determine whether they should face felony charges of hazing.

The history of the case

The student died in November 2017 following the party where he reportedly drank heavily. The then-president of the fraternity’s FSU chapter and two other members faced felony charges of hazing in connection with the death.

A circuit judge in Leon County initially dismissed the felony charges against the three men. However, an appeals court based in Tallahassee later overturned the circuit judge’s ruling, deciding that prosecutors did have an adequate basis for pursuing felony charges.

The reasoning of the appeals court

In the case of the chapter president, the appeals court explained its reasoning. Although the young man was not present at the party in question, he had given his permission to serve alcohol at the party. This was after a meeting that took place before the party involving a discussion of the dangers involved in pledges becoming intoxicated.

The panel provided no such explanation of its rationale in the cases of the other two fraternity members but reached the same decision. The panel determined that all three men could face felony hazing charges in a two-to-one decision.

The arguments the men intend to make are not available in detail. This is customary in cases before the state Supreme Court.