Matt’s Law, (Senate Bill 1454) sponsored by Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch, CA), is a California law that allows for felony prosecutions when serious injuries or deaths result from hazing rites. The bill increases the severity of charges for some hazing rituals, from misdemeanors to felonies, and for the first time gives prosecutors the ability to seek hazing charges against non students. In a 34-2 vote, Matt’s Law passed the state Senate on May 30th, 2006. On September 19, 2006, the statute was signed into law by governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Matt’s Law was named in memory of Matt Carrington, a 21-year-old California State University, Chico student from Concord, California. Carrington died in the basement of a fraternity house located two short blocks from campus.
Prior to the enactment of Matt’s Law, hazing — even in the case of death — was only a misdemeanor, as part of California’s education code, rather than punishable under the state’s penal code. Matt’s law prevents unaffiliated fraternities from using the argument that they cannot be punished for hazing, simply because they are not student organizations. The law also gives prosecutors clear authority to bring charges against anyone or any organization involved in hazing, not just currently enrolled students.
PASSED THE SENATE – AUGUST 30, 2006
PASSED THE ASSEMBLY – AUGUST 24, 2006
INTRODUCED BY Senator Torlakson
February 23, 2006
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:
SEC. 3. Section 245.6 is added to the Penal Code, to read:
245.6. (a) This section shall be known and may be cited as “Matt’s Law” in memory of Matthew William Carrington, who died on February 2, 2005 as a result of hazing.
(b) As used in this section “hazing” or “haze” is conduct which causes, or is likely to cause, bodily danger, physical harm, or personal degradation or disgrace resulting in physical or mental harm to another person in the course of the other person’s preinitiation into, initiation into, affiliation with, holding office in, or maintaining membership in any organization. The terms “hazing” or “haze” do not include customary athletic, fire department, police department, military, or quasi-military training, conditioning, or similar events or activities.
(c) Any person who hazes or conspires to participate in hazing is guilty of 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 not to exceed one year, or by both fine and imprisonment.
(d) Any person who hazes or conspires to participate in hazing which results in death, great bodily injury, or great psychological injury is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison.
(e) An organization is guilty of violating subdivisions (b) or (c) if the organization’s agents, directors, trustees, managers, or officers authorized, requested, commanded, encouraged, participated in, ratified, or tolerated the hazing.
(f) The implied or expressed consent of the person or persons against whom the hazing was directed shall not be a defense to any action brought under this section.
(g) This section does not apply to the person against whom the hazing was directed.
(h) This section shall not, in any manner, limit or exclude prosecution or punishment for any other crime or any civil remedy.
(i) The person against whom the hazing is directed may commence a civil action for injury or damages, including mental and physical pain and suffering that results from the hazing. The action may be brought against any participants in the hazing, or any organization whose agents, directors, trustees, managers, or officers authorized, requested, commanded, encouraged, participated in, ratified, or tolerated the hazing. If the organization is a corporation, whether for profit or not, the individual directors of the corporation maybe held individually liable for damages.
SEC. 4. No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution because the only costs that may be incurred by a local agency or school district will be incurred because this act creates a new crime or infraction, eliminates a crime or infraction, or changes the penalty for a crime or infraction, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code, or changes the definition of a crime within the meaning of Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution.