Hazing Laws in California - PC 245.6

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Hazing Laws in California

As per California Penal Code 245.6, the act of hazing is considered a criminal offense. Hazing is defined as any type of initiation or pre-initiation ritual performed within a student organization that poses a significant risk of causing harm or injury to the student participating. The state takes this matter seriously and those found guilty of engaging in hazing can face legal consequences.

According to Penal Code 245.6, a "serious physical injury" refers to damage to one's physical state and excludes mental harm. Some examples of serious physical injury include concussions, unconsciousness, and disfigurement. The definition of a "student" covered under this code encompasses current, former, and prospective students of any educational institution, such as a school, community college, university, or other educational institution located in California.

The law reads:


(a) It shall be unlawful to engage in hazing, as defined in this section.

(b) “Hazing” means any method of initiation or preinitiation into a student organization or student body, whether or not the organization or body is officially recognized by an educational institution, which is likely to cause serious bodily injury to any former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or other educational institution in this state. The term “hazing” does not include customary athletic events or school-sanctioned events.

(c) A violation of this section that does not result in serious bodily injury is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100), nor more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or both.

(d) Any person who personally engages in hazing that results in death or serious bodily injury as defined in paragraph (4) of subdivision (f) of Section 243 of the Penal Code, is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.

(e) The person against whom the hazing is directed may commence a civil action for injury or damages. The action may be brought against any participants in the hazing, or any organization to which the student is seeking membership whose agents, directors, trustees, managers, or officers authorized, requested, commanded, participated in, or ratified the hazing.

(f) Prosecution under this section shall not prohibit prosecution under any other provision of law.”


A violation of Penal Code 245.6 in California can have serious consequences, both legally and personally. In addition to facing potential criminal penalties, those found guilty of violating this law may also be subject to civil penalties. It is important to understand the severity of hazing and the consequences that come with engaging in such behavior.

Civil penalties

If hazing has taken place, the victim may seek legal recourse in the form of a civil action to recover compensation for any injury or damage they suffered as a result. This lawsuit can be brought against any individuals who were involved in the hazing, or against the organization to which the student was attempting to join. It is important to note that hazing can have severe consequences and it is important to be mindful of one's actions and their potential impact on others.

Criminal penalties

A violation of Penal Code 245.6 that results in death or serious bodily injury is considered a "wobbler" offense in California, which means the prosecutor has the authority to choose to charge the crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case.

In California, a violation of the hazing law that does not result in serious bodily injury is classified as a misdemeanor. The punishment for this type of hazing can include summary probation, a term of up to one year in county jail, or a fine ranging from $100 to $5,000.

When a violation of the hazing law in California is charged as a felony, the individual accused may face severe legal consequences. The penalties for a felony charge in this case can include a sentence of imprisonment in the state prison system for a period of up to three years, or formal probation. It is important to understand the seriousness of hazing and the potential consequences of engaging in such behavior.

Legal Defenses

An individual who has been accused under Penal Code 245.6 has the right to contest the charges by presenting a legal defense. Successful defenses can sometimes result in a reduction or even dismissal of the charges. Three common defenses against criminal hazing allegations include demonstrating that the alleged behavior was not hazing, the defendant was wrongly accused, or there was no probable cause for the arrest.

Not hazing 

Penal Code 245.6 in California contains a precise definition of what constitutes hazing. This means that a defendant can use the argument that the actions they took in relation to a student did not meet the criteria for hazing as a valid legal defense. This can be a compelling argument if the defendant can show that the behavior in question does not fall within the scope of the statute's definition.

Probable cause

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that law enforcement must have a reasonable belief, based on evidence, that a crime has been committed before they may detain or arrest a suspect. If a person was taken into custody or arrested for hazing without probable cause, any evidence obtained after the illegal stop or arrest may be inadmissible in court. This could lead to the charges being reduced or even dropped completely.

Falsely accused 

It is unfortunately common for individuals to face criminal charges based on false allegations. These false accusations can stem from various emotions such as jealousy, revenge, or anger. As a result, it is a legitimate defense for a defendant to argue that they were falsely accused of violating California Penal Code 245.6.

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