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Booze party hosts bear legal risks

POSTED November 16, 2011 8:43 a.m.
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A news story from Florida brings to light the serious problems adults face when underage people consume alcohol at their homes or on their properties. Specifically, an 18-year-old girl consumed alcohol at a party and gave a 15-year-old girl a ride. The driver lost control of the vehicle and crashed. The passenger died as a result and the police investigation revealed that the driver's blood alcohol content was 0.15 percent - almost twice the legal limit.

This tragedy features serious criminal, civil and moral implications not only for the person(s) who specifically hosted and were present at the party, but also for the persons responsible for the location (property owners) where the party took place. The attorneys representing the decedent's family are asserting that, even though the property owners may not have known about the party and its illegal underage drinking activities, they still have considerable liabilities. "When you look at the circumstances, you have minors being allowed to drink on your property and that's against the law, period. You need to hold the owners responsible so it doesn't happen again to someone else," said attorney Dan Clark.

The outcome of the case has yet to be decided, but there is the strong inference that if parents or other persons responsible for a particular premise do know that alcohol or other drugs are being unlawfully consumed, their criminal and civil liability is very high. Some adults believe that as long as the alcohol-consuming minors remain inside the home or elsewhere on the property, that there are no violations. Not only is that a mistaken belief, but the problems can get much worse once those minors leave the premises. The obvious dangers involve drinking and driving, but a minor who gets injured while walking, gets struck by a car or when virtually any other mishap takes place as a result of their intoxication creates a serious set of legal problems for the persons responsible for the property where the drinking took place.

Another point to consider is that most people often wrongly assume that all parties are "private," and not accessible to the police. Just because a party is at a "private" residence, it does not exempt the party hosts from abiding by the laws involving alcohol consumption. Once the police reasonably believe that a party is open to the public or there is probable cause for entering the residence, they can enforce applicable laws.

Charging party participants an entry fee gives the police reason to investigate and determine whether alcoholic beverages are being sold without a license and/or to persons under the age of 21. Fees charged also can be considered as an indicator that the party is public in nature.

Whether parents or other persons responsible for a particular property are present, or whether they explicitly know of illegal alcohol consumption taking place, they are not only jeopardizing themselves for criminal prosecution and civil liability, but they are contributing to a major societal problem. They need act responsibly and take the steps necessary to prevent illegal drinking from happening at properties or residences they own or otherwise control. Looking the other way or rationalizing that underage drinking is common and therefore permissible is totally unacceptable. Surely, we do not want to see any young people of our communities lose their lives as a result of preventable, alcohol-related incidents.
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