Monday, June 1, 2009

Parents not even at home allowing underage alcohol parties face roving patrols in one California town under "social host liability" law

A town in California has hundreds of disturbances involving underage drinking so it will be joining San Diego and Rancho Cordove to try to hold parents and party hosts liable for underage alcohol drinking. This "social host liability" lawy means parents or guardians won't need to be at home or at a party to face possible fines and thousands of dollars in police enforcement costs.

Making hosts liable is the latest approach to a youth-drinking problem once regarded as a rite of passage. 50 jurisdictions in California have acted, with more in other states.

Not all would merit use of the ordinance. But in the most serious cases, police are likely to apply the measure as well as seek criminal charges based on violations of state law.

Any homeowner may be viewed as liable when they knowingly allow gatherings where there is underage drinking. If a juvenile throws the party, parents may face liability even if they weren't home and "reasonably should have known," the ordinance says.

In Modesto, a similar 2-year-old ordinance is giving parents ammunition to tell children: I will not risk going to be billed for the officers' time and fined.

Modesto has the party patrol: the police divide and conquer, he said. Individuals 18 to 20 years old – still too young to purchase alcohol – would constitute one group. Those who haven't been drinking may be asked to take others home.

Youths 17 and under who have been drinking are deemed to be in constructive possession of alcohol.

Violators will face civil fines of $100. Second or third offenses in a 12-month period will bring $200 or $500 fines, respectively, with the money going to a special fund for prevention of underage drinking. The bill for law enforcement response will be more.