Criminal Justice

As More States Enact Social Host Laws, Parents Face Jail Time for Kids' Drinking Parties

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Parents are increasingly targeted for their children’s at-home drinking parties under social host laws now on the books in 28 states.

Parents can face criminal or civil penalties under the laws if they permit underage teens to drink on their property, no matter who supplies the alcohol and even if no one is injured, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) says. The laws are becoming more popular; in 2005, only 18 states had adopted such laws. Less stringent statutes in a few other states, including California, penalize social hosts only if someone is harmed.

Some parents have been prosecuted under the stricter laws, the story says. A Massachusetts mother was sent to jail in May because of teen drinking at her home. In Warwick, R.I., former school board member and cheerleading coach Terri Serra is on trial as the result of her daughter’s homecoming party. Four boys were injured in a car accident afterwards. Serra has testified she fell asleep watching a movie and was unaware of the drinking in her backyard. She could be sentenced to up to six months in jail if she is found guilty.

Serra’s lawyer, Robert Mann of Providence, plans to challenge the constitutionality of the social host law, the Westerly Sun reports. The law, which penalizes adults who permit underage drinking, is vague in its definition of “permit,” he argues.

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