Lawmakers consider tougher fines for hazing

Hal Stuart was appalled to learn his son was dunked in ice water, beaten with a paddle and driven around blindfolded in a speeding car, all part of a 2012 fraternity initiation at Salisbury University.

Hoping to prevent other college students from being hazed, Stuart traveled Tuesday from Montgomery County to Annapolis to testify on a bill that would increase criminal fines for hazing.


"You're letting these kids play Russian roulette with other kids' lives," Stuart told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, would change criminal penalties for hazing, increasing the possible fine from $500 to $5,000. The offense would continue to carry a possible sentence of up to six months.

Stuart's son, Justin, eventually left Salisbury and is now a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, his father said.

The fraternity has been suspended through summer 2015.

Raskin said increasing hazing penalties would "send a very sharp message about the unacceptability of these kinds of torturous experiences happening on our college campuses."

Institutions of higher learning, he said, "should not be a place where people are subjected to violent, degrading, inhuman treatment."

Salisbury senior Jack Hanlon, a senior political science major, testified in favor of the bill. Hanlon said his fraternity, Sigma Tau Gamma, does not haze.

He suggested the current $500 fine is too easy for students to dismiss — it's less than the cost of throwing a good party and less than annual fraternity dues, Hanlon said.


Officials from the University System of Maryland supported the bill, though Andrea Goodwin, director of student conduct at College Park, said hazing cases rarely end up with criminal charges.

She said some years, she investigates up to a dozen reports involving fraternities, sororities, sports teams and other student groups. Often, she said, victims don't want to testify about being hazed.

Even so, she supports increasing penalties as a warning to students about hazing.

Some senators focused on the lack of prosecutions and questioned why the penalty should be changed if it's not used now.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said those who haze could already be charged with reckless endangerment or other crimes that carry tougher sentences.

But Raskin said the law was developed to clarify hazing as a crime even if the victim consents — a unique feature of university hazing. Before the law was enacted in the 1980s, defendants could use the victim's consent as a defense in court, Raskin said.


No one testified against the bill.