FAMU hazing death brings FL hazing laws into question

- Was the beating death of FAMU Drum Major Robert Champion hazing or a competition?

Tampa attorney Rupak Shah says it's clear to him.

"If an activity constitutes a competition then it's not considered to be hazing," said Shah.

Shah went before the Florida Supreme Court Wednesday to argue that Florida's hazing law is vague and therefore unconstitutional.

"What acts of hazing are criminal acts and what acts of hazing are protected under that last sentence?" asked Shah.

The statute is being challenged after Robert Champion was killed during a FAMU hazing ritual that required him to endure a beating by other band members as he tried to make it to the back of a bus.

Several students were charged with hazing, including Dante Martin. He was convicted and is serving a six-year prison sentence. But now his lawyers say the hazing law is too broad.

They say what happened in Champion's case should be considered a competition, not hazing.

But Justice Barbara Pariente pushed back.

"Competition on who can stay alive and who dies?" Pariente asked.

Shah quickly responded, "Your honor, because the legislature did not restrict the definition of competition that is, in reality, the construction of that word."

But Kristen Davenport, who represents the state disagrees.

"What they can't do is beat up one of their members. There is no First Amendment right to beat somebody up. There is no First Amendment right to associate in criminal conduct like that," Davenport said.

But Stephen Turner, who represents Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, argues the question of "What conduct is prohibited?" is not addressed by the state's hazing statute.

The Florida Supreme Court may rule on this matter by this spring. 

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