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Mark McCown: Parents should not host teen alcohol party

Dear Lawyer Mark: I have a question about alcohol and children. I am the parent of a couple of kids in high school, and I don’t mind if they drink alcohol, as long as I know about it before hand, they do it responsibly, and they don’t drive.

I know other parents who agree with me, and my husband and I were thinking about hosting a party for the kids later this spring where alcohol would be available.

Quite frankly, we believe that the kids are going to drink anyway, so we would rather they do it at our house, where we can keep an eye on them.

So long as my husband and I chaperone the party, and get consent from all the other parents, can we get into legal trouble?

Would it matter if the kids brought their own alcohol furnished by their parents? — RESPONSIBLE PARENTS

Dear Responsible Parent: To put it bluntly, you can go to jail if you host this party.

Ohio Revised Code section 4301.69 governs underage drinking (underage being below the age of 21). First, there is nothing that is illegal about letting your own children consume alcohol, so long as they do it in your presence, and aren’t drinking to the point of it causing a health risk.

The law specifically provides that parents may provide it under such circumstances, and underage persons may also consume alcohol given for “established religious purposes” (e.g., communion), or if prescribed by a physician.

The problem for you arises when you allow other underage persons to consume alcohol at your house.
Section 4301.69 states that no owner of a public or private place (including a house) may allow underage persons to remain in that place while possessing or consuming alcohol.

While parental consent is a defense, it is only valid if that child’s parents are actually present at the party while the child is drinking, and it is they who give the alcohol to the child.

Since the parents wouldn’t be there, you would be guilty of violating that section.

In addition to your breaking the law, the minor could also be prosecuted, as no underage person is permitted to possess or consume alcohol, unless they meet the exemptions I talked about above. Since their parents wouldn’t be there, the children under 18 would go to juvenile court for delinquency, and the children over 18 but not yet 21 could get the same punishment as you.

And finally, the parents of a minor under 18 who gave consent could actually go to jail, also. That same section of law says that a parent may not consent or permit a child to violate the statute.

Since the parent consented and was not present, resulting in the child breaking the law, they could be charged as well.
For all of the adults in the above scenarios, you could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of six months in jail, as well as a maximum fine of $1,000.

It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638, or e-mail it to him at LawyerMark@yahoo.com. The right to condense and/or edit all questions is reserved.