Underage Drinking and Summer Parties

Social Host Liability Law applies

By Michael Turton

Across Putnam County and beyond, it is the season of high school graduation. On top of that, summer officially gets underway on June 21. Both are cause for celebration among family and friends — and the festivities often take the form of a party — whether meticulously planned weeks in advance or thrown together on the spur of the moment. In either case, with few exceptions, alcohol is on the party planner’s list.

For parents, homeowners and tenants, the party season carries with it responsibilities and legal consequences, especially as they relate to serving alcohol to minors.

In 2006, all six towns in Putnam County — Carmel, Kent, Patterson, Philipstown, Putnam Valley and Southeast — followed a statewide trend, passing similar legislation entitled the Social Host Liability Law.

While the safety and well-being of their children may be the top, common-sense priority for parents in monitoring activities at parties they host — or that are held at their home in their absence — the penalties for serving alcohol to minors when charged under Social Host Liability Laws are further cause for vigilance.

In Putnam County, such violations are a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. In most of the towns, including Philipstown, a fine of up to $3,000 can also be imposed. The Town of Kent, where the maximum fine is $1,000, is the lone exception.

Imposing penalties

Parents would be well advised to not only be aware of what the law actually says, but what it implies as well. Local town codes are identical in the conduct they prohibit, stating that “no person shall host, suffer, permit, organize, or allow a party, gathering or event at his or her place of residence or other private property … owned by or under his or her control, where three or more minors are present and alcoholic beverages are being consumed by any minor.”

In an email to The Paper, Capt. William McNamara of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department commented on the meaning behind the words. “As I read [the law], a person need not be physically present at the party to be held liable,” McNamara wrote. He also pointed out that for charges to be laid, the minors who are served alcohol don’t have to be drunk. “It is not necessary to show that a minor is intoxicated by alcohol to charge a violation of the code,” he said.

McNamara added that in addition to Social Host Liability Law, anyone who gives or sells alcohol to a minor can also be charged under New York State Penal Law for unlawfully dealing with a child and/or endangering the child’s welfare. In addition he said, someone who hosts a party involving underage drinking “may open themselves up to extensive civil liability under New York’s Dram Shop Law” for injuries caused to a third party by someone under the age of 21 who had been served alcohol at the party.

Arrests have been made locally under the Social Host Liability Law. McNamara pointed to a case last fall when Putnam County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call in Putnam Valley involving a party at which several minors were consuming alcohol. The homeowner was present and admitted to hosting the party and being aware that minors were drinking alcohol.

“Four of the minors were younger than 17,” McNamara said.  “The woman was charged with nine misdemeanor counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor, four misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and one count of violating the local social host liability code.”

Parents seeking advice about hosting a party at which alcohol will be served and minors will be present can contact The Putnam County Communities that Care Coalition, 67 Gleneida Ave., Carmel, NY 10512, or phone 845-225-4646. The coalition also provides information on its Facebook page.

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