It’s a scene played out in every teenage coming-of-age movie: the over-the-top, out-of-control house party. It begins with someone’s parents going out of town for the weekend, and a few texts and snap chat posts later, the house is besieged with hundreds of teens, crates of alcohol and raucous party goers looking to blow off some steam. What the movies don’t show, however, is the aftermath—especially when it comes to the legal implications of teens and underage drinking. And it isn’t just a problem for those under the age of 21. Parents and adults who knowingly—or even unknowingly—serve alcohol to minors can find themselves in real legal trouble.
Criminal charges– Adults caught supplying alcohol, even inadvertently, to minors face serious liabilities. In some states, they are subject to hefty financial consequences, including fines and restitution to victims in the event of an accident.In addition, they may be charged in the criminal courts for, among other things, contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Financial liability– In addition to civil suits, adults may be subject to municipal fees. Increasingly, communities are enacting special laws that punish parents for allowing or contributing to underage drinking. In some NorthernCalifornia communities, for example, parents are billed for police costs—up to $1,000—for time spent breaking up a party. In some counties, parents are financially and criminally liable when minors at a party consume alcohol—which, in some cases, is defined as a gathering of three or more people—whether or not the parents knew about the event beforehand.DUI and license suspension– Where a blood alcohol level of.08 might put an adult behind bars, in some states, a .05 might be enough to put an underage drinker in jail. Underage drinkers may also have their drivers licenses suspended, even if the reason they were breathalyzed had nothing to do with driving.
Felony burglary– Teens contemplating “borrowing” an unattended home for a party are in danger of receiving a simple trespassing charge. It’s considered burglary, which is a felony in some states. If a minor takes anything from the house, it can result in serious charges, including being sent to prison. If the minor in a state with a three-strikes law, this offense it’s considered a first strike.The best defense to protecting yourself from these and other legal consequences of underage drinking is to talk seriously with your children about alcohol, parties and family liability long before it’s an issue. Avoid leaving teens home alone overnight—wild parties can instantaneously appear, with out any intention on your or your child’s part. Let neighbors know when you leave town. And finally, consult your homeowner’s insurance policy to make sure you have adequate personal liability insurance.