Garret Drogosch was a seventh-grader at Meads Mill Middle School in Northville, Michigan interested in joining the school football time. One of the informal initiation rituals for Garret to join the team was to participate in an activity called “eighth-grade hit day”. It can be described as a tackling drill, where the new seventh-grade players were told to stand upright and not to flinch while an eight-grader rushed to tackle that player. There were no pads worn and the younger players were not allowed to block or defend themselves. Despite being 4 feet 11 inches high and weighing 85 lbs., Garret was picked three times for hit day. On the final tackle, he was charged by an eight-grader that was almost 6 feet tall and 45 lbs. heavier. He was hit so hard that his right leg broke in two places. Two surgeries and two months in a wheelchair later, Garret was learning to walk around in crutches.
This activity was part of a phenomenon known as “hazing”, where someone joining in or participating in a group or club must submit to humiliating, degrading or abusive behavior regardless of the desire to participate. The difference between hazing and assault is that the victim usually consents to the activity knowing it is a prerequisite to membership. Hazing is notorious in college fraternities where pledges looking to join are subject to paddling, being covered in dirt or water, forced to eat vile food, drinking to excess, physical strikes, wearing humiliating clothing, and obeying the bizarre requests of superiors. In the U.S. Navy, there is a ritual for “crossing the equator” for the first time where each “pollywog” is subject to physical abuse such as running the gauntlet. The purpose of hazing is to build solidarity and group cohesion among old and new members.
Unfortunately, hazing has resulted in severe and permanent injuries or death. Every year, people are hurt or killed in hazing rituals at college campuses, especially those involving physical abuse, drugs or alcohol. Public opinion regarding hazing is changing from viewing it as unity-building activity to now viewing it as a way to exert power and control over others. The unfortunate incident involving Garret Drogosch led to the passage of “Garret’s Law” in Michigan that criminalized certain types of hazing at educational facilities effective August 18, 2004.
An individual is guilty of hazing causing physical injury, serious impairment of a body function or death, contrary to MCL 750.411t, if the prosecutor can prove all the following beyond a reasonable doubt (Michigan Criminal Jury Instruction 17.37):
- First, that the individual attended, was an employee of, or was a volunteer with an educational institution. “Educational institution” means a public or private school that is a middle school, junior high school, high school, vocational school, college, or university located in Michigan. MCL 750.411t(7)(a).
- Second, that the victim was a pledge that was or is attempting being initiated into, affiliating with, participating in, holding office in, or maintaining membership in an organization connected with the educational institution. “Pledge” means an individual who has been accepted by, is considering an offer of membership from, or is in the process of qualifying for membership in any organization. MCL 750.411t(7)(d). “Organization” means a fraternity, sorority, association, corporation, order, society, corps, cooperative, club, service group, social group, athletic team, or similar group whose members are primarily students at an educational institution. MCL 750.411t(7)(c).
- Third, that when the individual attended, was an employee of, or was a volunteer with the educational institution, he or she participated in an act of hazing the victim. “Hazing” means an intentional, knowing, or reckless act by a person acting alone or acting with others that is directed against an individual and that the person knew or should have known endangers the physical health or safety of the individual, and that is done for the purpose of pledging, being initiated into, affiliating with, participating in, holding office in, or maintaining membership in any organization. MCL 750.411t(7)(b). Hazing includes any of the following:
- “Physical brutality, such as whipping, beating, striking, branding, electronic shocking, placing of a harmful substance on the body, or similar activity.” MCL 750.411t(7)(b)(i).
- “Physical activity, such as sleep deprivation, exposure to the elements, confinement in a small space, or calisthenics, that subjects the other person to an unreasonable risk of harm or that adversely affects the physical health or safety of the individual.” MCL 750.411t(7)(b)(ii).
- “Activity involving consumption of a food, liquid, alcoholic beverage, liquor, drug, or other substance that subjects the individual to an unreasonable risk of harm or that adversely affects the physical health or safety of the individual.” MCL 750.411t(7)(b)(iii).
- “Activity that induces, causes, or requires an individual to perform a duty or task that involves the commission of a crime or an act of hazing.” MCL 750.411t(7)(b)(iv).
- Fourth, that the individual committed the act of hazing for the purpose of pledging or initiating the victim into the organization, or so that the victim could be affiliated with, participate in, hold office in, or maintain membership in the organization.
- Fifth, that the individual’s act of hazing caused physical injury, serious impairment of a body function or death to the victim.
An individual who violates this law is guilty of a crime penalized as follows:
- If the hazing results in physical injury, the person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $1,000.00, or up to 93 days in jail, or both. MCL 750.411t(2)(a).
- If the hazing results in serious impairment of a body function, the person is guilty of a felony punishable by a fine up to $2,500.00 or up to 5 years in prison, or both. MCL 750.411t(2)(b). “Serious impairment of a body function” includes, but is not limited to, one or more of the following:
- Loss of a limb or loss of use of a limb.
- Loss of a foot, hand, finger, or thumb or loss of use of a foot, hand, finger, or thumb.
- Loss of an eye or ear or loss of use of an eye or ear.
- Loss or substantial impairment of a bodily function.
- Serious visible disfigurement.
- A comatose state that lasts for more than 3 days.
- Measurable brain or mental impairment.
- A skull fracture or other serious bone fracture.
- Subdural hemorrhage or subdural hematoma.
- Loss of an organ.
- If the hazing results in death, the person is guilty of a felony punishable by a fine up to $10,000.00, or up to 15 years in prison, or both. MCL 750.411t(2)(c).
- Garret’s Law does not apply to an individual who is the subject of the hazing, regardless of whether the individual voluntarily allowed himself or herself to be hazed. MCL 750.411t(4).
- Garret’s Law does not apply to an activity that is normal and customary in an athletic, physical education, military training, or similar program sanctioned by the educational institution. MCL 750.411t(5).
- It is not a defense to a prosecution for a crime under Garret’s Law that the individual against whom the hazing was directed consented to or acquiesced in the hazing. MCL 750.411t(6).
Garret’s law does not prevent the prosecutor from charging the offender with a more serious crime instead such as manslaughter, assault with a dangerous weapon or criminal sexual conduct of any degree when there is evidence that the victim did not consent. Anyone who is subject to prosecution should retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately to protect their rights and hold the prosecutor to their burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor must show that the accused was actually part of the hazing activity and that the act causing physical injury was not accidental. No matter what the situation, the state should be held to their high burden of proof under the law.
If you or a loved one is charged with any crime and needs legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.