Under California Penal Code 245.6 PC, hazing is a crime if it is a method of initiation into a student-based organization, and the method is likely to cause serious bodily injury to a student.
245.6 PC states that “hazing means any method of initiation or preinitiation into a student organization or student body…which is likely to cause serious bodily injury to any former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or other educational institution in this state.”
- Michelle is the head of a sorority at a local college and makes pledges drink numerous vodka shots at a party.
- Jerome is the captain of his university’s football team and tells all incoming freshmen that they must eat food out of the dumpster of a neighborhood restaurant as part of the initiation activities.
- Lila is on her high school’s cheerleading squad and makes all the new members perform obstacle courses and athletic events for one whole day with little food and sleep as part of an initiation onto the squad.
Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a defendant can raise if accused of a crime under Penal Code 245.6. These include showing that the defendant:
A violation of PC 245.6 may result in both criminal and civil penalties.
Criminal penalties can include:
Civil penalties mean that the hazing “victim” can bring a civil lawsuit against the hazing parties to recover damages.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. When does hazing become a crime in California?
- 2. How can a person defend against a Penal Code 245.6 charge?
- 3. What happens if a person is convicted?
- 4. What crimes are similar to hazing?
1. When does hazing become a crime in California?
Penal Code 245.6 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to engage in hazing activities.1
“Hazing” is defined as a method of initiative or preinitiation into a student-based organization, which is likely to cause serious bodily injury to a student.2
A serious physical injury means an impairment to a physical condition (this does not include mental harm). Examples include such physical harm as:
- a concussion,
- a loss of consciousness, and
Please note that the “students” covered in PC 245.6 include:
- current students,
- former students, and
- prospective students.4
Also note that this statute applies to students in any:
- community college,
- university, or
- other educational institution in California.5
2. How can a person defend against a Penal Code 245.6 charge?
A person accused under this statute can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.
Three common defenses to criminal hazing charges are:
- no “hazing,”
- falsely accused, and/or
- no probable cause.
2.1. No hazing
The language in Penal Code 245.6 includes a very specific definition of “hazing.” This means it is always a solid legal defense for a defendant to show that, while he performed some act in relation to a student, that act did not amount to a hazing incident.
2.2. Falsely accused
Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon for people to get prosecuted based on false allegations. People get falsely accused out of
- revenge, and
Thus, it is a valid defense for a defendant to say that a party falsely accused him of violating Penal Code 245.6.
2.3. No probable cause
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police must have probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspect of a crime.
If a person was stopped or arrested for hazing and there was no probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.
3. What happens if a person is convicted?
A violation of Penal Code 245.6 may result in both:
- criminal penalties, and
- civil penalties.
3.1. What are the criminal penalties for violating PC 245.6?
A violation of California hazing law that does not result in serious bodily injury is charged as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor hazing is punishable by:
- misdemeanor (summary) probation,
- up to one year in county jail, and/or
- a fine between $100 (one hundred dollars) and $5,000 (five thousand dollars).6
A violation of the statute that does result in death or serious bodily injury is a wobbler offense. This means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, at the prosecutor’s discretion.7
If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense is punishable by the above-listed penalties.
If charged as a felony, the crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the state prison for up to three years8, or
- felony (or formal) probation.
3.2. What are the civil penalties for hazing?
If hazing occurs, the person against whom the hazing was directed may file a civil action for any injury or damages.9
Note that the lawsuit can be brought against:
- any people that participated in the hazing, or
- any organization to which the student was trying to become a member of.10
4. What crimes are similar to hazing?
There are three crimes related to hazing. These are:
- assault – PC 240,
- battery – PC 242, and
- alcohol in public school – BPC 25608.
4.1. Assault – PC 240
Penal Code 240 PC is the California statute that makes assault a crime.
Per PC 240, a “simple assault” is an attempt to commit a violent injury on someone else.11
A prosecutor must prove four things to successfully convict a defendant of this crime. These are that:
- the defendant did something that was likely to result in the use of force against someone else,
- the defendant did so willfully,
- the defendant was aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that this act would directly and probably result in force being applied to the other person, and
- when the defendant acted, he had the ability to apply force to the other person.
A violation of this statute is charged as a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.12
4.2. Battery – PC 242
Penal Code 242 PC is the California statute that makes battery a crime.
Per PC 242, a “simple battery” consists of any willful and unlawful use of force or violence on someone else.13
Please note that “assault” and “battery” are two distinct crimes. Under California assault law, Penal Code 240, an assault is an attempt to use force or violence on someone else. Battery, on the other hand, is the actual use of force or violence on someone else.
A violation of PC 242 is charged as a misdemeanor in California. The penalties may include:
- a fine of up to $2,000, and/or
- up to six months in county jail.14
4.3. Alcohol in public school – BPC 25608
Business and Professions Code 25608 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to
- give, or
an alcoholic beverage while in a public schoolhouse, or while on the grounds of the public schoolhouse.15
Please note that there are a few exceptions to this general rule. And, they are specifically listed in the language of BPC 25608.
Some exceptions where alcohol is allowed at a school include:
- when it is used in connection with a course of study and is held by a person authorized to possess, acquire, or use it, and
- when it is served, possessed, or provided as part of a culinary arts (or food making) program.16
A violation of BPC 25608 is charged as a misdemeanor.17 The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months; and/or,
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
For additional help…
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Penal Code 245.6 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. Our law office serves clients throughout the state, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Chico, San Bernardino, San Francisco, Glendale, San Jose, and more.
For information on Nevada’s hazing laws, please see our article on NRS 200.605 – “Hazing” laws in Nevada.
- Penal Code 245.6 PC (This provision of the law was passed as Senate Bill 1454 (2006) – Matt’s Law after Matt Carrington, a victim. A violation of this section can be a misdemeanor or felony).
- See same.
- Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instruction 925 — Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury.
- California Penal Code section 245.6b PC.
- See same.
- Penal Code 245.6c PC.
- Penal Code 245.6d PC.
- Penal Code 1170h PC.
- Penal Code 245.6e PC.
- See same.
- Penal Code 240 PC.
- Penal Code 241 PC.
- Penal Code 242 PC.
- Penal Code 243 PC.
- Business and Professions Code 25608 BPC.
- See same.
- Business and Professions Code 25608 BPC.