First of 12 people charged in FAMU drum major’s hazing death avoids prison time

A FAMU band member whom a judge said played a “minimal role” in the 2011 hazing and beating death of Robert Champion was sentenced last week to probation and community service. Brian Jones had pleaded no contest to felony hazing charges, a third-degree felony in Florida punishable by up to five years in prison. He was the first of the 12 people charged to be sentenced and could now be asked to testify against his former band mates, some of whom may have played a larger role in Champion’s death, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel. The first sentencing in a case with multiple defendants is always watched closely, especially by the criminal defense attorneys representing the other defendants, because it often sets the tone for how the rest of the cases will be handled. By pleading “no contest,” Jones did not admit guilt, but declined to fight the charges any further. It’s a technical out for some people, though many judges consider a guilty plea a guilty, regardless of how the defendant and his or her criminal defense attorney try to couch it.

Jones was sentenced to six months of community control, the newspaper reported, where he will likely be required to wear an ankle monitor and have specific hours when he must be inside his home. Jones also received two years of probation and will have to complete 200 hours of community service. Not a slap on the wrist by any means, but certainly better for Jones than serving time in prison and being forced to always list on a future job application that he has been to prison. Champion was beaten to death as part of a hazing ritual where FAMU band members had to make their way to the back of a bus through a gauntlet of older band members slapping, hitting and kicking them, the newspaper reported. Jones said he was on the bus when a previous band member went through the ritual, but walked off to smoke a cigarette before it was Champion’s turn. Only two of the 90 witnesses could place Jones on the bus at the time of Champion’s death, the newspaper reported.

In many cases it is a bit player, similar to Jones, who is the first to be sentenced. And while there is plenty to be gleaned from it, a more severe sentence would have been much more telling. The judge has likely created the floor for the sentences – meaning he may not go lower than what he gave to Jones. If Jones would have been sentenced to prison, it would have been likely that all 12 – if they either pleaded or were found guilty by a jury – would also expect a prison sentence, too. When and what to plead to are serious decisions in a case with multiple defendants and could play a significant role in the sentencing. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, has represented hundreds of clients in cases with co-defendants and can lay out the options for you or a loved one quickly so a decision can be made to get out in front of the case, if that’s the best move at the time.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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