The Fraternity members convicted on third-degree felony hazing are the first to be tried and convicted under the Chad Meredith Act, which some people are calling a “hazy law.”
“There is always room for opinion and what constitutes a felony from a misdemeanor,” Attorney Johnny Devine said.
The jury in the case decided that because of the extensive nature and direct medical treatment, the victim Marcus Jones’ injuries could be considered ‘serious bodily injury.’
Robert Augustus Harper, a Florida defense attorney said, “Serious bodily injury has been argued for a long time under the battery codes.”
The codes are an outline toward the seriousness of injuries in a case, Harper said.
Court score sheets include “bodily harm and offenses that range from slight, moderate to severe,” he said.
In the case of the Kappas, there was a score sheet that assesses points for different levels of injuries afflicted upon the victim.At the trial, Attorney Richard Keith Alan II said that his client, Jason Harris, scored a 40, which he said was below the amount that warrants a prison sentence.
The Florida Corrections Commission 2005- 2006 Annual Report states that if total points are equal to or less than 44, then the lowest permissible sentence is a non-state prison sanction. The threshold, according to the report, is 52 points, which requires a mandatory prison sentence.
This being the case, the points assessed to Harris were enough to justify the sentence that was handed down by Judge Kathleen Dekker.
Harper said another misconception in the case was that the element of consent was not necessary in order to indict Morton and Harris. This means that regardless of whether Marcus Jones was pledging and or disagreed to the act of hazing, those performing the beating could be charged for the crime. This is outlined in Article 1006.63, Section 5 (a) of the Florida statutes. “In the hazing statute, it doesn’t matter if a victim consents,” Harper said. “As far as this case is concerned, the sentence was to be expected.”
In the first mistrial, jurors struggled to come to a consensus on the wording of the law. It was in the second trial that the jurors chose to charge Morton and Harris for the crime.
“Jurors are like laymen, they are not expected to have a full scope of the law,” Attorney Devine said. “What may be clear to one person, may be difficult for another.”
He emphasized that it is the jury’s job to compare the information they gain in a case to the law and to come up with their best conclusion.
“Before they convict someone, they have to be clear,” Devine said. “The jurors can ask the judge for clarity as far as interpretation, however the judge’s job is not to make a decision for the jury.”
Also the jurors are allowed to request clarity from both sides of the bench (prosecutors and attorneys), “but still it is ultimately the jury’s decision,” Devine said.
Now that the two Kappa members are sentenced, they have one last chance to appeal within the next forty days.
“In the appellant court, the law could be held unconstitutional or illegal because of flaws,” said Daryl D. Parks, attorney at law. “It appears that the interpretation of serious bodily injury weighed heavily in the case.”
Parks said he spoke with Attorney Hobbs shortly after the sentence hearing.
“He [Hobbs] remains very optimistic of going to the 1st District of appeals court,” Parks said.
He said that as a result of the sentencing handed down in the case there will be a difference concerning hazing within fraternities.
“There will be less of it now,” he said. “It’s a big issue for FAMU, and it has to stop.”