New Alcohol Laws Put Adults on Hook for Teen Drinking

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on August 30, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Teenage drinking is a crime in all 50 states since we all have a drinking age of 21. But it's not just a crime for the teenager doing the drinking.

In some states it's also a legal issue for the adult who does the serving.

Illinois has just passed a law that goes into effect next year and makes it a misdemeanor for adults to serve alcohol to underage persons. It isn't the only state with these 'social host' laws on the books.

The majority of states have some law that punishes adults who provide alcohol, legally called 'social hosts,' to people who shouldn't have it. That can mean providing alcohol to minors but it can also mean over-serving adults that obviously should be cut off.

Most states say that a social host can be liable for civil negligence if they serve alcohol to someone who later injures a third-party as a result of their intoxication.

The victim can sue not only the person who caused the injury but also the person who provided the alcohol. The server is not criminally liable for the injuries caused by an intoxicated adult.

That changes when the person who was served is underage.

Some states take liability a step further and make adults criminally liable for providing alcohol to minors. The new Illinois law makes it a misdemeanor just to provide alcohol to underage persons even if they don't cause any injury, reports KFVS.

If the underage person does cause an injury because they were drunk, the adult's crime jumps to a felony charge.

The adult doesn't have to physically hand an underage person the alcohol to be liable either. It's sufficient that they should have reasonably known there would be underage drinking on their property and failed to stop it.

The crimes and penalties aren't that different from what other states have on the books. Even if your state doesn't penalize social hosts, local city ordinances may.

Teenage drinking is never legal even if it's in the privacy of your own home. Giving underage kids alcohol is like playing Russian roulette with your criminal record. Just say no.

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