The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 30, 2010

What you don’t know may not hurt you, but it could cost you

The prime season for underage drinking parties – the weeks just before recent graduates leave for college – is upon us. Public focus has traditionally been on the teens who attend parties where alcohol is consumed, but when police are called to the scene, parents or responsible adults may be the more permanent victims. Police must enforce the Social Host Responsibility Law of 2000 (GL Chapter 138, Section 34). Chapter 138 clearly stipulates responsibilities and liabilities when any individual under 21 consumes alcohol. The consequences for violation can be serious as well as costly. So for what it is worth, and it could be worth tens of thousands of dollars for any person held responsible for what happens at such parties, Officer Paul Smith of the Carlisle Police has provided relevant facts.

A primer about alcohol for teens and their parents

The legal drinking age in Massachusetts and every other state is 21. It is against the law to serve or provide alcohol to underage guests or to allow them to drink alcohol in your home or on other property you control. If you do, you may be prosecuted criminally. The penalty is a fine up to $2,000, imprisonment of up to a year or both (G.L. c.l38, sec.34). Courts have awarded damages of over a million dollars when illegal drinking has caused injury or death.

Possession of alcohol under the age of 21 is always a civil offense and possession of over an ounce is also a criminal offense. A case of underage use or possession will usually proceed through the court system, although Restorative Justice circles, which are voluntary, are held outside the court system and are being used increasingly with teenagers involved in underage drinking.

Parent handout available

Smith has prepared a handout for parents which includes the following facts:

• You may be sued civilly. If you are sued civilly, a jury may decide whether you are liable and how much you will have to pay for injuries caused by your guests.

• You could be prosecuted criminally or sued civilly if you knowingly allow a person under 21 to drink at your home, and he becomes very ill or dies from alcohol poisoning or other injuries.

• You could be civilly liable if you give permission for your underage child to drink in someone else’s home and he injures or kills a third party.

• You could be civilly liable if your child has a few friends over when you are not at home, it develops into a drinking party and a partygoer injures himself when fleeing after the police arrive.

The full handout is available at the police station. An exerpt, in the form of a question and answer information sheet for parents, is printed below.

It can happen here

Police regularly investigate any noise complaints about loud parties. They are particularly vigilant this summer because an underage female passed out at a party earlier this year and was taken to the hospital.

It can happen here and it did happen here: there are some things that can be done to prevent it happening again and there are certain consequences for both underage drinkers and responsible adults when it does. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito