Hazing is a hot topic on college campuses, and for years now, state governments have been considering laws that would penalize students for participating in hazing rituals that endanger their fellow students.
Ever since the tragic hazing death of Max Gruver in 2017, that debate has come to Georgia.
The Max Gruver Act went into effect July 1, 2021, increasing the potential for Georgia students to be prosecuted for hazing. So what will this mean for college students in fraternities and sororities?
From Cobb County’s fiercest defense attorney Kim Frye, here’s everything you need to know about Georgia’s new hazing law and what it means for college students.
Current hazing laws in Georgia
The O.C.G.A. 16-5-61 is the current state law that makes hazing a criminal offense. The law reads:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to haze any student in connection with or as a condition or precondition of gaining acceptance, membership, office, or other status in a school organization.”
“Hazing” is defined in this law as the following:
- subjecting a student to an activity
- which endangers or is likely to endanger their physical health
- regardless of the student’s willingness to participate in such activity
According to the law, hazing is categorized as “a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.” In Georgia, this means they are punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 12 months in jail.
The Max Gruver Act
In September of 2017, Max Gruver, an LSU student from Roswell, Georgia, died from alcohol poisoning after another student ordered him to chug a bottle of 190-proof liquor as part of a hazing ritual.
The student who ordered Gruver to drink the alcohol was convicted in Louisiana of negligent homicide and sentenced to 5 years in prison, although a judge suspended half of that sentence in 2019.
After Gruver’s death, Louisiana passed a law that made hazing a felony, and a campaign began to pass a similar law in Georgia, Gruver’s home state.
The proposed Max Gruver law would have made hazing a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. It also created a number of other provisions:
- It expanded the definition of what is considered hazing
- It made bystanders who didn’t do anything to stop the hazing guilty of a misdemeanor
- It allowed the Attorney General to bring civil lawsuits against adult trustees who knowingly allowed or covered up hazing
- It required all Georgia schools to adopt new policies to deter hazing, such as publishing an annual report on all hazing incidents
The bill passed in the State Senate in February with most of these provisions intact, but by the time it was officially signed into law in May, it was significantly watered down.
What the new Georgia hazing law means
As it was finally signed into law, the Max Gruver Act does not make hazing a felony, nor does it allow for penalties of up to 5 years and a $50,000 fine.
Even once the law comes into effect on July 1, the maximum penalty for a hazing conviction will still be 12 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The Act does expand the definition of hazing, however, in a number of ways:
- Hazing now includes “coercing the student through the use of social or physical pressure to consume any food, liquid, alcohol, drug, or other substance which subjects the student to a likely risk of vomiting, intoxication, or unconsciousness”
- The types of schools and school organizations covered by the law have been expanded
- Hazing is now illegal when it involves prospective students, in addition to students who are already enrolled
In addition, the Act does require school administrations to enact some policies to crack down on hazing, including reporting on any hazing incidents that occur at their school.
If you are a student at a Georgia college or university, you could still potentially be convicted of a misdemeanor if you participate in hazing. While this new law doesn’t make hazing a felony, it does expand the definition of hazing so that it’s easier for prosecutors to charge you with a misdemeanor.
Hire a criminal defense attorney in Georgia
At Frye Law Group, we have experience defending people accused of all sorts of crimes, including hazing. We know how to work within the criminal justice system to defend your rights and make sure that your future is protected. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.