You may be a bit surprised at how this experienced Boston criminal lawyer’s views the recent Andover hazing debacle given my oft-spouted views on Massachusetts bullying.

Simply put, it is not the same situation.

One similarity it does have, however, is the attention of Attorney General Martha Coakley. She is said to be scrutinizing the Andover public school system because of the latest hazing scandal.

Under the current Massachusetts law, Hazing is described as follows:

any conduct or method of initiation into any student organization, whether on public or private property, which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person. Such conduct shall include whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the weather, forced consumption of any food, liquor, beverage, drug or other substance, or any other brutal treatment or forced physical activity which is likely to adversely affect the physical health of any such student or other person, or which subjects such student or other person to extreme mental stress, including extended deprivation of sleep or rest or extended isolation.

In fact, Hazing is a crime under M.G.L.A. 269 § 17, the applicable statue, which provides for a potential jail term of one year as well as substantial fines should this law be broken.

Apparently, though, the AG is more concerned with the fact that the school has failed to file a complete hazing-prevention plan with the state. Yes…kind of those anti-bullying policies that various schools are failing to provide pursuant to their applicable, if worthless, statute.

Andover School Committee member Richard Collins, a track coach at the high school for 37 years, is also concerned. He says, “The rules state what you’re supposed to do. If you aren’t doing that, then you need to …I’m confident that if that has to happen, then it will.”

A mighty strong statement if nothing else…

Melissa Karpinsky, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Andover did submit its anti-hazing policy to the state but did not send the required paperwork certifying that it was in compliance with the state’s hazing law. “We fully expect that to happen,” she said, adding that there is no penalty for failing to submit the certification.

By the way, the 682 public, private and approved special education secondary schools, Andover High School and 30 others did not file their annual report by the Oct. 1 deadline, accortding to Carole Thomson, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
The department sent the names of those schools to Attorney General Martha Coakley for follow-up actions, Thomson said.

And how about the students, who this all affects the most?///

Well, they also seem to be waving around in the morass of the situation. “It was kind of weird. It was just kind of awkward, with everyone trying to figure out what’s going on,” senior Matt Ciampa, 18, said. “Some people are waiting for a class meeting, but that hasn’t happened yet.” However, he reassured the press that, as for answers, “I think they’ll come in due time.” Another senior added that students were reluctant to speak about the matter among themselves. “Everyone’s scared of saying the wrong thing…Everyone doesn’t want to start a rumor.”

Attorney Sam’s Take On School Campus Crimes

Is anybody other than me confused out there? I keep getting the mental image of a crowd of people, of all ages, sitting around, scratching their heads and saying, “I don’t know…what do you wanna do?”

Hazing is not only a bit more serious than bullying, but there is actually a law already in existence about it. I understand that cyber-bullying and calling people names is horrible, but forcing others to drink urine, be branded or assaulted and battered in various ways has directly caused deaths and is already punishable by jail time.

“Sam, why do we need the law against hazing? After all, aren’t there other laws against those things?”

In most of those other criminal statutes, consent is an issue. In other words, to be guilty of Massachusetts assault and battery, the complainant cannot have agreed to the touching. However, in the case of hazing, consent is specifically listed as not a defens.

We can argue about whether that should be the case, but it is the case for now.

However, while folks seem ready to bring criminal charges against alleged bullies of all ages…everyone is busy studying their proverbial navel when it comes to hazing. Instead, the concern is whether a piece of paper has been filed.

I am not saying that the policy is not important. It is. However, it proves a point…a point we have repeatedly discussed and a point that is important to you.

Criminal justice these days is greatly affected by politics. If it hits the media and if it will gain support or critism (after all, being an Attorney General or a District Attorney is a political post), then it is considered worth prosecutorial attention. Sometimes attention that seems heroic at the time, such as we saw in South Hadley and in our legislature on the subject of bullying.

Here, physical and emotional damage is certainly done. Almost every time. However, it is ignored until the subject hits the press. And then, it is given limited attention…not really direct attention…until the particular incident goes away.

How does that affect you?

Because you and your kids are the victims and future defendants out there.

Be aware. Dare I suggest…get involved?

But, be clear. If you or a loved one are accused of something that is a hot topic (like bullying), do not take it lightly. Get experienced defense counsel. Fast.

You may well be the next celebrated target of law enforcement!

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