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What does Ohio’s new anti-hazing law mean?

Governor Mike DeWine signed “Collin’s Law: The Ohio Anti-Hazing Act” into law on July 6, 2021. The law substantially alters R.C. § 2903.31, Ohio’s criminal statute against hazing. The new law is not just aimed at regulating student behavior; administrators, faculty, employees, and volunteers are also subject to criminal charges under the new law.

When does the new anti-hazing law take effect?

90 days after signing. So, it should be in effect in early October 2021.

What actions were prohibited under the old law?

Revised Code section 2903.31 currently prohibits the following:

  • Any person from recklessly participating in the hazing of another person; and
  • An administrator, employee, or faculty member of a public or private school/educational institution from recklessly permitting the hazing of any person

Under Ohio law, “reckless” means that a person acts with “heedless indifference to the consequences (of their actions), the person disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that (their) conduct is likely to cause a certain result or is likely to be of a certain nature.” R.C. §2901.22.

In short, you do not need to purposefully or knowingly act (to cause a certain result) to be guilty of acting “recklessly.”

Violations of the current hazing statute are misdemeanor of the fourth degree—meaning the potential maximum fine is $250 and the maximum amount of jail time that could be imposed is 30 days.

What is “hazing”?

Under the current R.C. 2903.21 statute, “hazing” refers to “any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation into any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person.”

There has been a lot of criticism of the current hazing law because it is limited to acts of initiation. Meaning that acts that occurred after a person was already a member of the organization were not criminal acts of hazing.

What is “hazing” according to the new Ohio law?

Collin’s Law substantially changes the definition of “hazing” under Ohio law. Under the new 2903.31, “hazing” adds the language in bold:

(1) “Hazing” means doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation into any student or other organization or any act to continue or reinstate membership in or affiliation with any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person, including coercing another to consume alcohol or a drug of abuse, as defined in section 3719.011 of the Revised Code.

  • Collin’s Law expands the current definition of hazing to include acts that occur after initiation into an organization if the member is required to complete the action to stay or be reinstated in the organization.
  • Collin’s Law also specifically targets the coerced consumption of alcohol and drugs of abuse. The law is named after a student from The Ohio State University who died from asphyxiation after inhaling a canister of nitrous oxide.
  • The new law also specifically names fraternities and sororities as being considered an “organization” that is covered by the anti-hazing statute.

Who can be charged for a crime under the new anti-hazing law?

Collin’s Law expands the scope of culpability for hazing under R.C. 2903.31—meaning it lists more individuals who can be charged for a crime. The new law creates a new felony level hazing offense and increases the penalty for a violation of the current anti-hazing law.

Misdemeanor Level Offense under Collin’s Law (new language in bold):

  • No person shall recklessly participate in the hazing of another.
  • No administrator, employee, or faculty member, teacher, consultant, alumnus, or volunteer of any organization, including any primary, secondary, or post-secondary school or of any other educational institution, public or private, shall recklessly permit the hazing of any person associated with the organization.

Under Collin’s Law, the misdemeanor version of hazing was increased from a fourth-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree misdemeanor. This means that the punishment for violating this section of the anti-hazing law will carry a maximum fine of $750 and the maximum amount of jail time that could be imposed is 90 days.

The new law also significantly expands who can be charged and convicted for hazing.

New Felony Level Offense under Collin’s Law:

  • No person shall recklessly participate in the hazing of another when the hazing includes coerced consumption of alcohol or drugs of abuse resulting in serious physical harm to the other person.
  • No administrator, employee, faculty member, teacher, consultant, alumnus, or volunteer of any organization, including any primary, secondary, or post-secondary school or any other educational institution, public or private, shall recklessly permit the hazing of any person associated with the organization when the hazing includes coerced consumption of alcohol or drugs of abuse resulting in serious physical harm to that person.

The new felony level hazing offense added by Collin’s Law is specifically targeted at coerced consumption of alcohol or drugs of abuse that cause serious physical harm to the person that consumed the alcohol or drugs. Collin’s Law makes it a felony for both the persons involved in the act of hazing (via coerced alcohol and drug consumption) and individuals that permit hazing (via coerced alcohol and drug consumption) to occur.

A violation of this new felony level hazing law is a third-degree felony. Meaning the penalties substantially increase in fine amount (up to $10,000) and imprisonment (up to three years).

What other changes do I need to know about the new anti-hazing law?

Collin’s Law also creates new hazing-related statutes under sections 2903.311, 3333.0417, and 3345.19 of the Revised Code.

2903.311

The new law prohibits the following:

  • No administrator, employee, faculty member, teacher, consultant, alumnus, or volunteer of any organization, including any primary, secondary, or post-secondary school or any other public or private educational institution, who is acting in an official and professional capacity shall recklessly fail to immediately report the knowledge of hazing to a law enforcement agency in the county in which the victim of hazing resides or in which the hazing is occurring or has occurred.

In short, this new law makes it a crime to fail to immediately report knowledge of hazing for the categories of people listed. Meaning a reporting obligation exists under Collin’s Law.

A violation of §2903.311 is:

  • A fourth-degree misdemeanor—meaning the potential maximum fine is $250 and the maximum amount of jail time that could be imposed is 30 days—if the hazing results in no serious physical harm.
  • A first-degree misdemeanor—meaning the potential maximum fine is $1000 and the maximum amount of jail time that could be imposed is 180 days—if the hazing results in serious physical harm.

3333.0417

In summary, this new education law requires the following:

  • The chancellor of higher education shall develop a statewide educational plan for preventing hazing at institutions of higher education.

In other words, this new statute requires a model anti-hazing policy be established and enforced, and training be provided that covers the new anti-hazing guidelines.

3345.19

In summary, this new education law requires the following:

  • Each institution of higher education shall develop an anti-hazing policy that prohibits students enrolled in an institution of higher education, or other individuals associated with an organization recognized by or operating under the sanction of an institution, from engaging in hazing or a violation of section 2903.31 of the Revised Code.

This new statute lists a number of new policies, reports, and obligations that will exist for schools regarding hazing.

Section 3345.19 specifically mentions that the anti-hazing policies will apply to on-campus and off-campus violations of R.C. 2903.31, but only if two or more people affiliated with the school violate R.C. 2903.31. In other words, the school’s policy will not apply if R.C. 2903.31 is not violated or if the violation of R.C. 2909.31 only involved one person affiliated with the school.

If you have any questions about whether your actions or the actions of an organization you belong to, coach, teach, advise, or volunteer for may constitute hazing, you should contact an experienced criminal attorney. Rittgers & Rittgers, Attorneys at Law has attorneys experienced in both criminal law and university disciplinary matters with whom you can consult.

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