If you’re going to make a law to punish those who participate in hazing that results in serious bodily injury, you have to define both “hazing” and “serious bodily injury.” Florida got it only half right, which made for a law that didn’t work at all.
Three members of Kappa Alpha Psi from Florida A&M University – Brian Bowman, Cory Gray and Marcus Hughes – proved that fact Tuesday when they pled no contest to the beating of Marcus Jones, a prospective member of the fraternity, with fists, canes and boxing gloves. According to the Associated Press, the three will serve 30 days in a sheriff’s work program or something similar – the details will be left to the Department of Corrections – and will be on probation for a year.
The other two defendants involved in the case – Michael Morton and Jason Harris -were both found guilty of felony hazing and received two years in prison. Both are appealing.
Morton and Harris have a good chance of reversing the decision. Bowman, Gray and Hughes were sentenced to little more than probation because the jury could not agree on a definition of “serious bodily injury,” a term the hazing law fails to define. The two felony counts, however, were handed down after Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker “crafted” a definition of the term for the jury. Convictions based on definitions invented by judges tend to raise the ire of the court of appeals.
The light sentencing of Bowman, Gray and Hughes wasn’t through lack of trying, either. The plea agreement was only agreed to after two mistrials. The jury was only allowed to choose between felony convictions and acquittal, reflective of an “all or nothing” attitude on the part of prosecutors. There’s no getting around it: The state wanted to convict all five men, but it failed miserably.
Provided the court of appeals overturns the Morton/Harris sentence, the only other recourse for justice would be a civil suit filed on behalf of Jones, who suffered a broken eardrum, lacerated buttocks and other injuries. Such a lawsuit has yet to be filed, but with the state creating laws that don’t properly define essential terms, there seems to be little recourse for justice.
This error, ironically enough, has made one of the most severe anti-hazing laws in the nation a legal safe haven for the violent. After all, if the crime against Jones had not been committed in the name of hazing, all five would have likely been felons – a title they most certainly deserve.