Graduation Party Liability When Alcohol Is Involved

As graduation approaches for so many of New Jersey’s seniors, it seems appropriate for many to beg their parents for a party to celebrate their newest accomplishment.  While this may seem like a harmless idea, when parents agree to allow their children to throw a party at their home it can quickly turn into a bad situation for everyone involved once alcohol is introduced.  When a parent allows minors who are under the New Jersey legal drinking age of 21 to partake in alcohol consumption on their property, they, along with the minors, could be facing substantial legal and financial consequences.

As to the minors, caught drinking underage on the premises, the standard charge is a violation of the 2C:33-15 (possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages by persons under legal age) and should not be taken lightly.  This offense can carry severe consequences that could impact a minor’s future for years to come.  Specifically, it is a disorderly persons offense coupled with a fine of no less than $500 and if the minor decides to get behind the wheel of their car and leave the party, they can be charged with DWI under the Zero Tolerance Law. Thus any minor caught driving while intoxicated will suffer; fines excluded, a mandatory six month license suspension, and will also be required to enroll in an alcohol awareness course.

As to the parent(s) hosting the graduation party, their legal and financial consequences could be substantially greater. The most common charge is a violation N.J.S.A. 2C:33-17a or “providing alcohol to minors.”  This offense carries up to six months in jail along with a $1,000 fine per each minor served.  Additionally, if a minor decides to leave the party, get behind the automobile, andgets into an accident, the parents can also be charged with 2C:24-4, or “endangering the welfare of a child.”  This offense could carry a $15,000 fine along with it 5 year prison term.

In addition to the above noted criminal charges, the hosting parents could also find themselves financially responsible if a child is injured.  This means that not only are the homeowners at risk of having their homeowner’s insurance company sued but they could also face the loss of their savings and investments.

While many parents may decide to not allow their child to throw a party because of the serious liability, parents can also face the same charges and consequences even if the parents are unaware that their son or daughter is throwing a party and alcohol is involved.  All that is needed in order for these penalties to take effect is for underage drinking to occur on the property.

With graduation getting right around the corner it is extremely important to be as careful as possible when hosting a graduation party.   If you find yourself faced with any of the charges listed above, call the team at The Law Office of Eric B. Hannum Esq., LLC, immediately for a free consultation.  The charges can be severe, and the liabilities can be substantial, and they should not be handled without a lawyer to defend you.

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