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Alleged hazing offenders can’t use victims’ consent as defense if Pritzker signs bill

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(The Center Square) – Not everyone was on board with a measure now on Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk that seeks to limit the kind of defense accused offenders can use when charged with the misdemeanor of hazing.

Illinois Senate Bill 2934 had support from Republicans and Democrats, but some lawmakers expressed concern about the bill infringing on an individual’s right to defense.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Dave Vella, D-Loves Park, fielded questions from state Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, on the House floor before it passed in May. Vella said consent is not a defense to hazing.

“If you would just briefly explain why you think consent isn’t a valid defense for hazing?” said Windhorst

Hazing is illegal in the state of Illinois. Hazing is classified as a Class A misdemeanor, except in the situation where hazing results in death or great bodily harm; it is then considered a Class 4 felony.

“It really comes down to a power dynamic. When someone is pledging a fraternity, or sporting event … the people who are doing the hazing are always in a power position to the people who aren’t doing the hazing, who are getting the hazing done to them. So the idea of consent just doesn’t apply,” said Vella.

Opponents say that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the accused a right to a defense and it’s not up to the legislature to dictate what that defense can and can’t be.

Eleven lawmakers in the House and five lawmakers in the Senate voted against the bill.

Vella said just because someone agrees to hazing, it doesn’t give the offender the right to torture someone. State Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, voted against the measure.

“There are two things that politicians are really good at and that’s doing nothing and the other is overreacting,” said Caulkins. “This is another instance of drafting a bill to become law without actually doing the hard work. This bill is vague and broad and is going to leave a lot of the hard work up to the discretion of unelected bureaucrats. I’m sure Pritzker will sign it. He’s a graduate of Northwestern and there’s a building there named after him.”

Caulkins said the measure was likely due to a flurry of lawsuits being filed against former Northwestern University head football coach Pat Fitzgerald and the university itself. More than 50 former Northwestern University student athletes have filed lawsuits alleging hazing and racism that caused physical and mental harm.

Caulkins said there are laws on the books that address hazing and assault and that this bill could limit someone’s right to a defense because of how broad it is.

“People are filing a lawsuit and the adults are being held accountable,” said Caulkins. “Here we are overreacting in the General Assembly.”

Although some Republicans voted against the measure, Windhorst expressed support for the bill on the House floor.

“I supported this bill in committee and I will be voting ‘yes’ on the floor. I noticed in the Senate it was a mixed vote, so that may occur here today,” said Windhorst.

Pritzker could act on the measure soon.

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