Canceling the 2014 season might be the least of the problems facing some players from a New Jersey high school football team involved in alleged hazing and bullying of a sexual nature if any of the behavior is true and if any of the young men are convicted.
If the allegations about the disturbing rituals in the Sayreville War Memorial High School football locker room are proven, those who committed the acts could face lengthy prison sentences if convicted, says a former New Jersey prosecutor.
Robert Honecker, a former first assistant prosecutor in Monmouth County who is now a defense attorney, said the charges depend upon the acts involved, as well as the age of the victim and defendant.
Honecker has no connection to the hazing allegations that rocked one of the state’s powerhouse football teams over the past week, but based on the allegations made by a parent of a football player in Sayreville as told to NJ Advance Media reporter Matthew Stanmyre, he made a list of possible charges that could be brought.
He said the parent’s story fits into the sexual assault statute as well as the hazing statute.
“There is aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact and sexual contact,” he said. “They would all fit. There would be a count for each victim.”
The parent claimed that senior football players would darken the locker room, grab a freshman football player, restrain him and then force a finger into the younger player’s rectum.
Honecker said if the seniors who participated are under 18 years old, they must be charged as juveniles. But the prosecutor’s office could make a motion before a judge to waive them to adult court, where the penalties for the same crimes are much more severe.
He said if the senior football players are charged and prosecuted as juveniles, aggravated sexual assault carries a five-year incarceration, but not in state prison. There are reformatories and facilities that house youthful offenders.
In adult court, aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree crime and punishable by 10 to 20 years in state prison. Sexual assault is second degree and carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Aggravated criminal sexual contact is third degree, which is up to five years in prison. Sexual contact is fourth degree and could result in a 16-month prison sentence.
“They (the allegations) also fall under the hazing statute,” Honecker said. “Hazing alone is a disorderly persons offense but if someone suffers serious bodily injury it becomes aggravated hazing, a fourth degree.”
He said the seniors could also face charges of criminal restraint, a third degree crime.
The ages of the victims — 13 or 14 — and the seniors — 17 or 18 — could increase the severity of the charge filed as well, Honecker said.
He said the investigation by law enforcement into these allegations could take months.
“Hazing cases sometimes are difficult to prosecute,” Honecker said. “Victims don’t easily come forward. Once the victim or multiple victims do come forward, then the cases can be prosecuted, but you have to get them in the door.”