The term “social host” refers to adults who host underage drinking parties. A social host does not have to actually be aware of the party in order to be held liable. And the party does not have to take place at the social host’s home – it can be held at any property that they own, lease or otherwise control.
Massachusetts law states that whoever furnishes alcohol to a person under 21 years of age shall be fined up to $2000 or imprisoned for up to a year or both. You may also be held civilly liable and your child may be charged criminally as well.
Therefore, the parents of a teen who hosts a party at their home while they are away may legally be considered social hosts. If their teen throws a party at a vacant property that his parents own, he or she is also putting them at risk of violating the social host laws.
Even parents who are present while teens are drinking at their home or event being held at a leased venue but are not aware that the teens are drinking may have social host liability issues to deal with. The article here by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) discusses underage drinking and the difficulties of enforcing social host ordinances.
What is Social Host?
Social host refers to adults who host parties where alcohol is served on property they control. Through social host liability laws, adults can be held responsible for these parties if underage people are served, regardless of who furnishes the alcohol. Teen parties are a primary setting for underage drinking for high school and college students and high consumption of alcohol and binge drinking.
Underage drinking is not just a youth problem.
It is also very much an adult problem. With adults who purchase alcohol for those under age 21; look the other way when teens talk about their drinking exploits; and host teenage drinking parties in their homes, many communities struggle to prevent underage drinking.
Holding adults responsible for underage drinking parties is a pro-active step for concerned communities but can be difficult. Law enforcement officials are typically not able to determine who provided the alcohol when they arrive on the scene of a teenage drinking party. Therefore, laws that prohibit furnishing alcohol to youth under 21 years old can be hard to enforce.
Social host ordinances give communities a practical tool for holding adults accountable. These laws allow law enforcement to cite the individual who hosted the underage drinking party on their property. More than 150 cities or counties and 24 states have adopted social host ordinances.
For more information on advocating for a social host ordinance in your community, download MADD’s sample social host law and the social host brochure, and take them to elected officials in your local municipality to make a difference. For questions or more information, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
MADD reports that a 2005 study of teenagers between 13 and 18, conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA), showed that nearly half the teens surveyed reported having somehow obtained alcohol:
• 2 out of 3 teens said it was easy to get alcohol
• 1 in 3 said it was easy to get alcohol from their own consenting parents
• 2 out of 5 said it was easy to get alcohol from a friend’s parents
• 1 in 4 said they’d attended a party where under 21s were drinking in front of parent
With alcohol so prevalent among teenagers, parents of teens need to take extreme precautions to protect themselves against any potential for social host liability. If you find yourself or someone you know facing social host charges, contact the attorneys at Revelli & Luzzo in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Our expertise in social host and other alcohol-related laws enables us to protect your rights to the highest degree. Schedule a free consultation with any of the Revelli & Luzzo attorneys and we will be happy to evaluate your case.