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Florida Supreme Court Rejected Challenge to Ex-Florida A&M Band Member’s Manslaughter, Hazing Convictions

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Manslaughter is a state crime defined as the “killing of a human being … without lawful justification,” under circumstances that do not otherwise qualify as murder or justifiable homicide. In simple terms, manslaughter is an unlawful killing that is not premeditated. So even in cases where a defendant is simply negligent or reckless, they may be liable for manslaughter even when no harm was intended towards the victim.

Court: Anti-Hazing Law Does Not Infringe on First Amendment Rights

The Florida Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in a manslaughter case that garnered significant media attention. The case of Martin v. State of Florida began innocently enough, at a 2011 football game between Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University. The two schools annually play a rivalry game known as the “Florida Classic.”

The defendant was a senior member of the Florida A&M marching band. At the time, the marching band had a hazing ritual known as “crossing.” Essentially, one band member would cross from the front to the back of the band’s assigned bus, while other band members would “slap, kick, and punch the participant,” according to court records.

Following the band’s performance at the Florida Classic, the defendant asked one of his fellow band members “if he planned to the cross.” At the time, the defendant was the “president” in charge of the bus. Three band members opted to cross the bus that night.

Tragically, one of the students did not survive the ritual. The student was found in the back bus. He panicked before passing out. The student was then taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A subsequent autopsy revealed “discoloration and a few superficial abrasions” on the victim’s body, as well as “noticed unevenness in the skin” on his torso. After completing the autopsy, the medical examiner’s officer determined the cause of death was “homicide.”

Prosecutors charged the defendant with manslaughter as well as violation of Florida’s anti-hazing statute. Following his conviction on these charges, the defendant appealed, arguing the hazing law itself was “unconstitutional.” This question eventually made its way to the Florida Supreme Court, which agreed with an intermediate appeals court that the law was not unconstitutional.

Hazing is a crime in Florida. The law defines hazing as “any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health of safety” for purposes such as initiating students into “any organization operating under the sanction of a postsecondary institution,” such as a fraternity or, in this case, a marching band.

Before the Supreme Court, the defendant argued the law “overbroad” and “vague.” More to the point, the defendant insisted that the law could be broadly applied to prohibit “speech of conduct protected by the First Amendment,” especially in cases where the victims “consent” to the alleged hazing. The Supreme Court disagreed. It noted the statute expressly requires proof that “the hazing results in serious bodily injury or death,” or at the very least “creates a substantial risk” of such outcomes. To the extent this could also criminalize ordinary acts of speech, the Court said such impact was too “insubstantial” and the defendant’s constitutional concerns were “without merit.”

Speak with a Miami State Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

Activities that start out as harmless fun can quickly deteriorate into a potential criminal matter. This is why it is essential to contact an experienced Miami criminal defense attorney if you are under investigation by the police for any reason. Contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos at 305.676.9545 if you require immediate assistance.

Sources:

floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc17-200.pdf

flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2010/1006.63

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