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Hazing in Maryland: a rite of passage or a violent crime?

Even though our state has classified "hazing" as a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, a $500 fine or both -- you can be certain that hazing rituals still take place at the University of Maryland and other colleges in the Silver Spring area. In the vast majority of cases, no one is seriously injured, no one dies and no one is charged with a violent crime. In the stories that make the news, however, serious injuries and deaths are almost always involved.

This week, hazing was back in the headlines as prosecutors in another East Coast state file criminal charges against 13 people in connection with the hazing-related death of a university marching band member.

The incident in question involved a drum major from Florida A&M University's marching band who died during the bus trip back from the band's performance at a football game against rival Bethune-Cookman. According to prosecutors, the drum major died as the direct result of a hazing ritual called "crossing bus C," during which "hazees" are reportedly assaulted by other band members while making their way down the length of the aisle.

Florida has one of the toughest anti-hazing laws in the nation, and eleven of the individuals charged in connection this week are facing a potential felony-level sentence of up to six years in prison.

While what happened to this Florida student was undeniably tragic, did the people involved really have any intent to cause serious injury or death here?

Should as many as 13 other young people have to face the lifetime of consequences that go hand-in-hand with having a "violent crime" conviction on their criminal record? Many legal experts in Maryland and across the nation believe that civil lawsuits are a more appropriate remedy for these types of situations. What do you think?

Source: The New York Times, "Criminal Charges for 13 in Florida A&M Hazing Death," Robbie Brown, May 2, 2012

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