Prom night, the homecoming game and dance, spring break, end of the school year, and graduation. These are some of the big celebrations in your teenager’s high school and college years. All of these events are usually accompanied by parties. It is normal to host a party to celebrate your teen’s achievements. And as adults, we know from our own experience that alcohol adds to the life of the party. However, the laws against underage drinking are not relaxed just for a special occasion. As an adult who hosts a party attended by underage drinkers, you are responsible to follow the law. Providing alcohol or even turning a blind eye can have legal repercussions. I will discuss these repercussions here.
In the case of a bar, or other licensed commercial alcohol provider, Connecticut has a “Dram Shop” law. This law provides for civil liability and mandatory insurance coverage to pay for the injuries or property damage. Connecticut also has tough laws against bars selling to underage drinkers. These laws make bar owners think twice before selling to underage drinkers. Most bars have systems in place to deter underage drinking, such as checking IDs and learning how to spot fake IDs.
In addition, Connecticut has strict “social host” liability laws. A social host is someone in control over a house, apartment, or private property, that serves their guests alcohol.
What To Do
As a parent or home-owner hosting a teenage party, you have to follow the law and not allow any teenage drinking. There are severe criminal and civil penalties if you break the law. Too many teenagers have been hurt or died because of intoxicated drivers. Connecticut wants to prevent these issues. Connecticut’s police and prosecutors are really aggressive with social host cases because they are looking to set an example for the whole community.
At your party, you must follow these rules:
- Do not serve alcohol to any underage drinkers.
- Do not turn a blind eye to underage drinking at your party (sometimes they bring their own alcohol – or sneak yours).
- If you find out that there has been teenage drinking at your party, you must do something affirmative to stop it. Simply taking the keys of everyone that enters the door is not enough under the law. Willful blindness will not be tolerated by a prosecutor.
You can even be prosecuted for underage drinking if you are not home while the party occurs. If your teen throws a party, and you knew about it or probably should have known about it, and the police are called, you will be arrested and charged with a crime if alcohol is involved.
Watch Out for These Warning Signs
When you host an event, be aware that if you serve alcohol, you have some legal responsibilities regarding your teenage party guests:
- You can never, ever, let anyone underage (under 21 years old) possess or drink any alcohol. You simply can’t let it happen at your event. It’s against the law. You could be held criminally responsible. Minors can’t possess alcohol at all. Don’t let them.
- You have to watch them like a hawk. Your teenage guests will try to drink your alcohol, or they may sneak their own alcohol into your party. You can’t turn a blind eye. If you suspect that teenagers are drinking at your party, you have to stop the drinking immediately. If you fail to act when you should have, you will be arrested, and you will face embarrassing and costly criminal charges.
- You are legally responsible for anyone who gets drunk at your party and drives away. This means if they get into an accident and hurt themselves, or hurt another person, or damage another person’s property, you are responsible for their actions. Don’t let your party guests drive when they are intoxicated. You could be sued for money damages.
- You can be held at fault if your teenager throws an alcohol party even if you aren’t home. Under the law, if you knew about the event, or should have known about the event, you are considered responsible for everything that happens. You have to be mindful and persistent in monitoring your teenagers.
- Any minors caught in possession of alcohol (for example, holding an open beer bottle in their hands) or intoxicated not only face penalties in criminal court, but they also face administrative suspension of their driver’s license and loss of their driving privileges.
The criminal penalties for social host liability and underage drinking are harsh:
- Any teenager caught in possession of alcohol will be arrested and prosecuted in court, will have their driver’s license suspended by the DMV, and will face administrative sanctions from their school and activities.
- Any social host caught knowingly serving alcohol to an underage drinker will be charged with the crime of Sale or Delivery to Minors. This is a Class E Felony that carries a fine up to $3,500 and up to 18 months in jail.
- Any social host who knows or should have known that underage drinkers were in possession of alcohol, or who learned about alcohol possession by underage drinkers but did nothing to stop it, will be charged with the crime of Permitting a Minor to Illegally Possess Alcohol. This is a Class A Misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $2,000 and up to one year in jail.
- In any situation where the underage drinkers were under 16 years-old, the social host will be charged with Risk of Injury to a Minor. This is a Class C Felony that carries up to 10 years in jail.
A lawsuit can be filed against you for social host liability. In addition to the criminal penalties, if anyone was injured or any property was damaged because of the actions of an intoxicated teenage party guest, you can be sued in civil court for social host liability. For instance let’s say a teenager drank alcohol at your party. Then they got into a car accident which injured another person. In this case, you would be responsible for any resulting injuries and damages to both the teenager and the other injured person.