There is an interesting and tragic case out of Northern Illinois University in Dekalb where 22 members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity have been criminally charged in the death of student David Bogenberger, 19, after a frat event with excessive drinking. It is one of the largest such prosecutions, if not the largest, that I have seen for a hazing or frat drinking death. The question is whether this is a matter that should be addressed on the criminal opposed to the civil docket as well as school proceedings for expulsion.
Five leaders of the fraternity have been charged with felony hazing: Alexander M. Jandick, 21, James P. Harvey, 21, Omar Salameh, 21, Patrick W. Merrill, 19, and Steven A. Libert, 20.
Arrest warrants were issued Monday for 22 members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity for the death in November. Most are to be charged with misdemeanors.
Bogenberger died of cardiac arrest due to alcohol intoxication with a blood alcohol level was about five times the legal limit for driving. He had attended a fraternity hazing event called “Moms Night” or “Parents Night” where you have to run a gauntlet of girls and must basically drink five shots per girl. It appears that none of the girls were charged or the subject of warrants.
As a professor and a parent, my heart goes out to the family of Bogenberger. I can only imagine the terrible loss and pain that this family has had to endure for a senseless and reckless tradition at this frat. I also support both expulsion of students responsible for such hazing as well as removal of fraternities from campus. However, I am a bit uncomfortable with charging students criminally for their mere participation in such heavy drinking events. This has generally been handled as a civil matter with lawsuits against the students and fraternities.
The law states:
§ 720 ILCS 120/5. Hazing
Sec. 5. Hazing. A person commits hazing who knowingly requires the performance of any act by a student or other person in a school, college, university, or other educational institution of this State, for the purpose of induction or admission into any group, organization, or society associated or connected with that institution if:
(a) the act is not sanctioned or authorized by that educational institution; and
(b) the act results in bodily harm to any person.
§ 720 ILCS 120/10. Sentence
Sec. 10. Sentence. Hazing is a Class A misdemeanor, except hazing that results in death or great bodily harm is a Class 4 felony.
The law is rife with difficult ambiguities. What does it mean to “knowingly require” when you are dealing with a fraternity where a student can stop drinking and may or may not be denied entry in the fraternity. More importantly, the criteria of any act “not sanctioned or authorized by that educational institution” is remarkably broad. It also ties the applicability of a criminal charge to the varying rules of public and private institutions.
The problem is that we have consent of the victim and drinking may be lawful in some cases. It is an unfortunate reality that college students often use their newfound freedom to do things in excess. Drinking is one of the most common. One argument in favor of criminalization is that it is the only effective deterrent for such students — a criminal charge concentrates the mind of the most dimwitted college student. However, it also criminalizes another area of life in our country — part of a disturbing trend.
What do you think? Should this be handled as a criminal matter for all of these frat members?