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Newsletter > January 2020 > "Defendants in Andrew Coffey Hazing Death Sent Back to Trial Court to Face Felony Charges"
Defendants in Andrew Coffey Hazing Death Sent Back to Trial Court to Face Felony Charges
Tim Burke, Manley Burke LPA, email@example.com
At the party, the victim’s Big Brother provided him with “a family bottle” of bourbon and told him that it was an expectation to finish the family bottle. Many Pledges drank to the point of intoxication including vomiting, blacking out and sadly, the death of the victim. The victim’s autopsy indicated his death was the direct result of severe intoxication, with a blood alcohol level of .447 g/dl at the time of the autopsy. Tests indicated his blood alcohol would have been even greater before the autopsy.
So described the First District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida when it announced its January 2, 2020, decision reversing the trial court’s dismissal of felony charges against three former students at Florida State University. The three former students had been charged with both felony and misdemeanor hazing as a result of the death of Anthony Coffey in November of 2017, after a Pi Kappa Phi Big Brother “Reveal Party.”
An Associated Press Report carried by the New York Times on January 2, 2020, detailed the significance of this decision. Five other members of the chapter have already been sentenced to jail time based on misdemeanor hazing charges. Presumably, those sentences of between thirty and sixty days in jail have already been served. But the three former members who will now see their cases returned to the trial court for trial on both felony and misdemeanor charges could face up to five years in prison.
At the time of Anthony Coffey’s death, Anthony Petagine, the named Appellee, was the president of the fraternity chapter. As the appellate court described,
Mr. Petagine directed all Fraternity activities, including the training and indoctrination of perspective, associate, or conditional members of the Fraternity, also known as Pledges: “He had the organizational and actual authority to stop all acts of hazing conducted by all members of the Fraternity. He presided over the Executive Council and the chapter as a whole . . . he encouraged and assisted and agreed to all Pledge activities.” … Most critical to our analysis here, he “was present for a meeting the week of the Big Brother party where the danger of Pledges becoming intoxicated was discussed and encouraged the event to take placethrough discussing mitigation of risk strategies and instructions that Pledges would not be forced to drink. (emphasis in original)
The Court acknowledged that Mr. Petagine did not attend the party, but he had “lifted the liquor ban to allow liquor at the party.”
It must be noted that the appellate court is not saying that Petagine and his fellow defendants are guilty of felony hazing. Rather,
when viewed in the light most favorable to the State, with all inferences being resolved against the defendant, the State’s statement of particulars alleged sufficient facts to show that a reasonable jury could find that Mr. Petagine committed felony hazing under the principal theory.
Whether or not a jury will actually do that remains to be seen.
This case was a split, two-to-one, decision, with one of the justices writing a long dissent that begins, “the question has been asked since primeval times, “am I my brother’s keeper?” and cites to Genesis 4:9. The dissenting judge essentially argued that nothing in the charges indicated that Coffey was forced to consume alcohol; it was his choice. As a result, the dissenting judge would dismiss all charges, both felony and misdemeanor. However, the dissenting judge appears to be out of step with the current view of hazing. After all, numerous state laws make it clear that a pledge’s agreement to participate in a hazing activity is not a defense.
Last year, following a growing trend, the state of Florida strengthened its law against hazing, naming its new regulations, “Andrew’s Law,” just as Pennsylvania and Louisiana had strengthened hazing prohibitions, naming them after victims in those states.
State vs. Petagine, No. 1D18-2086, 2020 WL 20734, *1 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Jan. 2, 2020).
Id. at *2.