When one thinks of a “house party” located near a major college campus, something along the lines of Animal House comes to mind: loud music, drunken party guests, and a keg or some kind of bar setup in the basement of a house. Most college campuses host a number of these parties every weekend, where different kinds of alcohol are typically provided by the hosts. Either the guests pay a fee upon entering the house, or they pay for a Solo cup of varying color, and are given access to alcohol the rest of the night. Although some guests may not consume the alcohol provided, it is important for party hosts to know all the dangers that may be involved with throwing these kinds of parties. While most of the guests invited may be 21 or older, there may be some guests who are under the drinking age. This article discusses the many unseen dangers, vis-a-vis, criminal law, for individuals who either knowingly or unknowingly provide alcohol to underage drinkers.
The Michigan Liquor Code includes a law that discusses providing alcohol to minors in these kinds of settings. It details the steps that a host must take in order to be discharged from liability, as well as the punishments for providing alcohol to underage individuals. It is important to note that it is irrelevant whether the host actually knows the individual is under the legal drinking age; if the host gives alcohol to that person either knowing he or she is underage, or fails to make “diligent inquiry”, then that person is guilty of a misdemeanor. “Diligent Inquiry” means checking IDs of the individuals drinking at the party. First time offenders are punished with imprisonment for not more than 60 days and/or a civil fine of not more than $1,000; second time offenders are punished with imprisonment for not more than 90 days and/ or a civil fine of not more than $2,500. It does not matter if the host is directly handing out the alcohol to the minors, or if he or she merely makes the alcohol available in the presence of minors; the law treats those two situations as the same crime. Basically, if a host allows alcohol and minors in their home at the same time, and the minors consume that alcohol, the host will be guilty of this misdemeanor.
If providing alcohol to a minor ultimately kills that minor, or is the cause of an accident that kills the minor, then the host can be charged with a felony. This felony is punishable by not more than 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of not more than $5,000. Generally speaking, the death the statute refers to is alcohol poisoning or some sort of accident caused by excessive drinking, such as falling from a balcony or falling asleep in the snow, leading to death. The law is unclear as to what the implications are if a minor drives after drinking at a party and injures a third party, but if a minor drives and kills him or herself, then the host will be criminally liable.
Another important aspect to consider is the sale of alcohol. Typically, the host or hosts will purchase all the alcohol prior to the start of the party, and then charge each guest as they arrive for either the alcohol itself or for a cup. The law treats the sale of those two things interchangeably, and any consideration (payment) for alcohol by guests is considered to be the sale of alcohol for criminal purposes. The unlicensed sale of alcohol is also a felony, punishable by one year and/ or a fine of $10,000. The best way to avoid this charge is to make sure hosts are not collecting money or donations or any other form of consideration for alcohol provided at the party. If hosts are absolutely determined to receive money for alcohol, it might be in their best interest to collect payment before purchasing the alcohol from a licensed retailer. Hosts should be advised that collecting money from underage individuals in this situation is still a crime.
Here are some things to keep in mind when throwing a party on campus:
- Check people’s IDs when having a house or apartment party.
- Do not let individuals drink at this party if they are under 21.
- Do not sell people alcohol at the party, either collect money beforehand or require guests to furnish their own alcohol.
- Make sure people leaving the party have safe transportation and a place to stay the night.
- Monitor the amounts of alcohol people are drinking; if someone has consumed too much alcohol make sure they have a place to stay where someone will be able to check on them throughout the night.
Following these steps will greatly reduce any potential criminal liability for party hosts. For more information please see Michigan’s law on selling or furnishing alcohol to a minor and Michigan’s law on the sale and delivery of alcohol.
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