New state law aims to stop senseless deaths in college hazing rituals

Andrew Coffey and FSU fraternity house where he died. Photo via Twitter

Two years ago, Andrew Coffey’s fraternity brothers at Florida State University’s Pi Kappa Phi made him drink an entire bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon and then left him to sleep it off on a couch. The 21-year-old was dead the next morning. No one dialed 911 or sought medical help.

Now, “Andrew’s Law,” SB 1080,  expands Florida’s anti-hazing law and also gives legal protection to anyone who calls for help when someone needs medical attention. Andrew’s family lobbied for the law during the 2019 Florida legislative session, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law this week.

Under the new law, if someone witnesses a hazing incident and they are the first to call 911, police, or campus security and provide their name, the location, and the nature of the medical emergency, they are shielded from prosecution. To be shielded from charges, they also have to remain with the victim, cooperate with emergency personnel, and provide first aid if they can.

“We have seen too many deaths and serious injuries from hazing activities in Florida, and we are grateful that the governor and Legislature recognized the need to make these improvements to Florida’s hazing law,” Miami attorneys David Bianchi and Michael Levine said in a written statement.

They represent the Coffey family in a civil suit over Andrew’s death, and they helped lobby for the new law.

The measure expands criminal prosecution to anyone who “solicits a person to commit, or is actively involved in the planning of” any act of hazing. Under the law, if someone participates in a hazing where a person is injured or killed, they are subject to a felony charge that carries a five-year prison sentence. Hazing that poses “a substantial risk of injury of death” carries a misdemeanor charge and up to one year in jail.

In 2004, attorney Bianchi secured verdicts in a civil case against two University of Miami Kappa Sigma members in the drowning death of 18-year-old Chad Meredith during a hazing ritual. The tragic episode helped inspire Florida’s existing anti-hazing law.

In 2011, fifteen members of the Florida A&M University marching band in Tallahassee were charged in the hazing death of 26-year-old Robert Champion, who was beaten in a hazing ritual. Most of the students who took part were sentenced to probation or community service, but the alleged ringleader – Dante Martin (then 28) – was sentenced to six-and-a-half years.

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