It's not unusual to hear that excessive fraternity hazing resulted in death or serious injury. The subject is topical right now due to at least two deaths in the state attributed to hazing in the past year. The most recent event occurred in Nov. 2014 when a 19-year-old man died in a hazing incident that has netted five criminal arrests to date. The fifth arrest – made just recently by the Albany police – was of a 20-year-old male who, like the other four, had been a student at the State University of New York at Albany. The men are charged with the criminal offense of first-degree hazing, a misdemeanor.
Hazing usually involves several days or weeks of a grueling disciplinary regimen that the fraternity's upperclassmen impose on the incoming group of pledges. Apparently, the test of extreme physical endurance and the willingness to carry out outrageous pranks for the fraternity is thought to exemplify the pledge's commitment and loyalty. The brutality of the hazing protocol, however, sometimes jumps over the line from jocular gamesmanship into criminally liable behavior.
The recent death was relatively straightforward: police say that the man was ordered to drink 1.75 liters of the alcohol of his choice. He died of anoxic encephalopathy, which refers to general brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. Although heavy drinking is often a popular pastime of male fraternity members, some individuals do not have the physical stamina or tolerance of alcohol to withstand a highly massive infusion of the chemical.
It is well-known that an intensely excessive, acute alcohol intake can have traumatic effect and cause serious bodily injury. It is therefore possible that the police will file homicide charges before their investigation is completed. In fact, they announced that additional individuals may be arrested. Depending on all of the facts, criminal defense counsel may find some viable defenses to the New York criminal offense of hazing. For one thing, because encephalopathy has a large number of organic and inorganic causes, counsel will want to determine whether the alcohol binge caused the death or whether some other pathology was partly or solely at fault.
Source: nbcnews.com, "Fifth Person Arrested After Fraternity Hazing Death in Albany, N.Y.", Tim Stelloh, Oct. 26, 2015