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Unprecedented crackdown on hazing by Air Force Academy

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When colleges or universities discover an alleged rule violation that could also be considered a crime, they typically have a choice in all but the most serious types of offenses. They can refer the case out to local police and process the case as a violation of school rules, or they can handle the allegations internally through their administrative discipline process without referring it to law enforcement. Both are serious, but referral out to law enforcement can result in criminal prosecution.

For military cadets, the local prosecutor could be the military. Recently, and for the first time in its history, the U.S. Air Force Academy announced criminal charges had been filed against cadets rather than the situation being handled as a disciplinary matter. Two seniors are now facing federal felony charges of dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. The charges stem from a hazing incident in 2017. They are facing up to five years behind bars.

The incident also triggered an outside review of the Academy's sports culture, along with a similar probe of the lacrosse team. No criminal charges resulted from that probe.

The Academy officially banned hazing in 1954, but numerous incidents have made headlines in recent years.

Hazing is a crime in Colorado, and other offenses can also be charged

The Colorado criminal code specifically prohibits hazing. It is defined, with some limitations, as "any activity by which a person recklessly endangers the health or safety of or causes a risk of bodily injury to an individual for purposes of initiation or admission into or affiliation with any student organization."

Two specific examples of hazing described in the statute include forced, prolonged physical activity and forced consumption of food, beverages, medications or controlled substances. Hazing is considered a Class 3 misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to 6 months in jail and/or a $750 fine.

Some hazing activities may constitute other crimes, including assault, battery, reckless endangerment and worse, depending on the details. At official military institutions, such behavior could result in federal charges. Whether a criminal charge has been filed or it is being handled as a disciplinary matter, a defense lawyer may be able to have the charges reduced or dismissed, or limit the consequences.

If you are accused of taking part in hazing, the consequences could be very serious. You need to protect your rights.

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