WANG: Penn State hazing case should inspire change in court rooms
Opinions Column: A Third Person Perspective
Common law is integral to our justice system. Common law is dependent upon precedents. Court cases rely upon previous rulings to assert further clarification and new judgments in order for us to evolve what the law should mean.
In the future, how exactly do we look back and even begin to explain how our justice system completely failed Timothy Piazza? How exactly do we evolve the concept of justice when it’s legally acceptable to allow someone to bleed internally on the floor of your fraternity house without any real consequences?
Recently, Magisterial District Judge Allen W. Sinclair dismissed cases of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault toward the fraternity brothers who chose to neglect Piazza’s needs. In fact, the only charges Judge Sinclair decided to press forward with were reckless endangerment, providing alcohol to a minor, and hazing — because that definitely begins to address what happened in the house of Beta Theta Pi.
No. None of that even comes close to addressing what had happened. During the night of the hazing incident, one student even stepped over Piazza’s body to fetch a glass of water, and another student took a Snapchat of Piazza’s suffering. During the surveillance-video portion of the prosecution, the defendants, “(were) watching quietly, craning their necks to look around one another at the screen. They laughed among themselves during a couple of breaks.” That’s some real, genuine brotherhood right there.
Leonard Ambrose, the lawyer for Joe Sala, a member of the Beta Theta Pi chapter involved with the incident, stated how “The charges are completely overblown.” I think it’s important to mention that Joe Sala was the assistant pledge master, who “allegedly helped to plan and facilitated the drinking games.” Thanks to the cooperation of both Leonard Ambrose and Judge Sinclair in pursuit of failing to acknowledge the death of a minor as anything relatively important, Sala was able to dodge charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, excessive alcohol hazing, hazing, furnishing alcohol to a minor and unlawful acts relative to liquor. How do all these charges across a dozen boys being dropped — including evidence tampering — progress our meaning of common law today? These boys chose to leave Piazza in excruciating pain because nobody wanted to suffer the consequences. And now that the boys actually face serious charges from the prosecution for their negligence, there still aren’t any consequences. Something seems incredibly backward here. Awarding negligent behavior that potentially results in death only encourages frat culture to continue with this kind of bystander behavior in dangerous situations. It seems like the entirety of our justice system has taken a huge step back, and this case only sets itself as a precedent for the next inevitable hazing incident. It isn’t possible for our societal meaning of law and justice to progress if we only give these boys a stern warning about providing alcohol to minors. A boy died. He died after tumbling down stairs and falling and lying there unconscious, in which his injuries would have caused him “severe and unremitting pain”... which included a fracture at the base of his skull and a ruptured spleen.” Is Ambrose’s labeling of this horrific accident as “overblown,” really the arguments that we should allow to win in court?
As the brothers of Beta Theta Pi took their time to search head traumas or cold extremities, Piazza’s failing body was only falling further and further away from his chance of survival. Fine — maybe nobody forced Piazza to drink. Nobody forced Piazza to even show up that night, but leaving someone on the floor to bleed out internally wasn’t an accident. Those fraternity brothers made a conscious decision to let Piazza die, and the country just isn’t ready to forgive that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to condemn the college experience of greek life. I’m trying to condemn a disgusting lack of responsibility for those around you who depend on you in times of crises. The negligent actions of the fraternity brothers to their apparent lack of remorse is only half the issue. The other half comes with our permissiveness as a society to let college students know that this type of behavior is totally acceptable, as long as no one dies.
That is where we draw the line — as long as nobody dies. It’s time we raised the standards a little bit higher for what it means to be a decent human being when others boys or girls in situations similar to Timothy Piazza need our help.
Ashley Wang is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and minoring in philosophy. Her column, "A Third Person Perspective," runs on alternate Fridays.
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