Social Hosting: It’s Not All Fun and Games
As the school year draws to a close and summer dare tempt us with the hope of sunshine and warmth, many of us have fun-filled events in store. Whether we have the opportunity to go the Prom; rejoice with a recent graduate at his/her graduation party; or simply enjoy a backyard barbecue with some friends, we need not forgot a few simple truths. Regardless if we agree with the law, it bares consequences if we break it. The Social Host Law, which states that the host of a social gathering may not allow a minor to consume or possess an alcoholic beverage or a controlled substance at the gathering on or within that premises, residence, or other real property, is no different. Not only is this law in place to protect minors from the direct consequences of alcohol consumption, it exists to minimize the ripple effect that the irresponsible consumption of alcohol can have as well. As we are all aware, allowing minors to drink at your home or property, even if you think you are helping them remain safe, can expose them to drunkenness, wild behavior, and nausea. However, the ripple effect that we may not consider is that allowing a minor to consume alcohol at your residence can make him/her vulnerable to other exploits as well, including being sexually violated, engaging in sexual misconduct, dangerously over-consuming alcohol, and taking away another parent’s right to govern the life of his/her child.
I had the opportunity to interview local Prosecutor Keith Kushion on the details of the Social Host Laws and their consequences. He not only provided me with the legal definition of a Social Host (summarized above), he enlightened me about the laws and their consequences. He articulated that if you choose to be a Social Host and are charged, you will be arrested and brought before the District Court Judge for an arraignment. For a first offense, you could be jailed for up to 30 days, fined up to $1000, and if you serve no time you could be placed on probation for up to three years. If you are charged as a Social Host and something tragic or criminal happens to the minor under the time of your Social Hosting (like he/she dies as a result of alcoholic consumption), you could be charged with a felony that could include a sentence of prison time and significant fines.
To remind you that the Social Host Laws are relevant and punitive, Prosecutor Kushion shared a story about something that took place in our very own community. “A few years ago, the police were alerted to a high school graduation party being held on private property. The homeowner had allowed his graduate to invite numerous classmates to spend the night. Car keys were collected from those who intended to spend the night…After discovering that underage drinking was being allowed on the premises, the police investigated and discovered that 19 minors had been consuming alcohol at the residence. The parent was charged with 19 counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor and one count of hosting a social gathering where minors were allowed to consume alcohol. Ultimately, the parent was sentenced to four days in jail, a fine of $100 for each minor that he pled guilty to furnishing alcohol to, and $1000 fine for being the social host who allowed minors to consume alcohol. Additionally, many of the parents of the minors who were allowed to consume alcohol were extremely upset because the decision to allow their child to drink was being made by someone who had no authority, or right, to make such a decision. Host a graduation party for your senior? You bet. Allow minors to consume alcohol at it, horrible idea."