With high school graduation and prom parties in the offing, you may be tempted to let your senior hold a party in your home. You always enjoy a drink at parties, and you don’t see why your own child can’t have some spiked punch. Unfortunately, the Illinois law on social hosting poses stiff penalties to parents who host under-aged drinkers. Parents who host face possible criminal and municipal charges as well as civil liability.
The Criminal Law: Under Illinois law, it is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1000 fine, if you knowingly provide alcohol to someone under the age of 21 other than your own child. If serious injury or death occurs, you can be charged with a Class 4 felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. You are considered to have knowingly authorized the use of alcohol if you fail to control access to the liquor cabinet in your residence. Therefore, under Illinois law, you could be at fault simply for leaving your liquor cabinet available while you were away.
To address social hosting even more directly, a new law has passed the Illinois House and is currently before the Illinois Senate. The new law would make it a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a mandatory minimum $500 fine if you permit a gathering of two or more people on premises under your control, where at least one person is underage and you should have reasonably known that they were consuming alcohol. If someone is injured, you can be charged with a Class 4 felony.
The Municipal Law: In addition to state criminal charges, many municipalities have their own penalties. For example, in Skokie, you may not allow an underage person who has drunk alcohol in your home to leave except in the care of their guardian. In Wilmette, you may allow your own child to drink in your home, but you may not allow that child to leave while still under the influence of alcohol. Furthermore, in Wilmette, you cannot allow someone else’s child to remain on your premises while possessing or drinking alcohol. In Evanston, you may not knowingly permit a gathering of two or more minors to possess or drink alcohol. You cannot intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently give or deliver alcohol to a minor or invite someone under age 18 to have alcohol on your premises. If you know there is a substantial probability that your child may drink, you must restrain him or her from driving or from committing other illegal acts, such as theft or vandalism.
The Civil Law: If someone is injured or killed because you willfully provided alcohol, you may be sued in civil court for damages that could total millions of dollars. Furthermore, you can be assessed punitive damages, and you may not claim contributory negligence as a defense. Recent Illinois case law includes a 2009 Lake Forest case, which reached a partial $2.5 million settlement in civil damages after a teen became paralyzed in an alcohol-related crash. The mother in that case did not even know the teens had smuggled beer into her home, but the parents’ homeowner’s insurance forced a settlement. In a 2006 Deerfield case, an 18-year-old was killed after leaving a party at a friend’s home. The host parents were sentenced to probation on the criminal charges and one was sentenced to 14 days in jail. The Illinois Supreme Court held, as of May 19, 2011, that the parents were not civilly liable since they did not voluntarily undertake a duty to prohibit the drinking. This ruling notwithstanding, host parents should be careful. Whether you are deemed to have voluntarily undertaken this duty may be a question of fact for a jury to decide.
What can you do? If you are charged with providing alcohol to minors, seek the advice of an attorney immediately. Do not give any statements to the police or anyone else. What you think is a reasonable explanation might be enough to convict you later. Refrain from discussing this matter in person or electronically via texts, email or any Facebook-type pages.
Because of the possible civil lawsuit, it is critical that you vigorously defend any criminal charges. A guilty verdict in a criminal case can become a foregone conclusion in a civil matter, which has a lower burden of proof. An experienced attorney can help develop a strategy for your defense.
If you have any questions about your situation, please do not hesitate to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email@example.com.
(In addition to Skokie, Matt Keenan serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Mt. Prospect, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Northfield, Wilmette and Winnetka.)