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Social Host Law Puts Parents of Young Adults Under 21 in an Untenable Situation

103769624_0a2f680106_mRecently, I wrote about a case in which parents were being charged under the social host law for their underage child’s party, which involved underage guests drinking alcohol. A new case in Cohasset shows how much of an impact the social host laws can have on a parent’s life. A woman whose underage son allegedly had a drinking party at her house has been subjected to the kinds of restrictions that we normally see for people who have been charged with a second or higher OUI offense. As a Massachusetts OUI criminal defense lawyer, I think it’s important for anyone with teenage children to be aware of how the social host law could affect them.

On a Saturday night during the first weekend in August, an eighteen year old, allegedly had 23 teenage friends over at the Cohasset home of his mother, age 50. A neighbor made a noise complaint to the police. Police officer John St. Ives came out to the home and reportedly heard people loudly chanting, “take off your shirt” and “we got your shirt off.” As St. Ives approached the back yard, he found people aged 17-19 sitting around a table drinking out of plastic cups, and beer cans all over the yard. The mother came out onto the deck while St. Ives questioned the teenagers. She claimed to have been at a friend’s house all night and to have been unaware that the kids were drinking alcohol, but was unable to supply the name of her friend. Two of her son’s friends told St. Ives that she had been home for 45 minutes and did know that they were drinking. Both the mother and son were arrested for disturbing the peace. The mother also faces charges of violating the social host law and keeping a disorderly house. The son and his 23 guests are charged with possessing alcohol as a minor.

Read article: Mother and son arrested because of underage drinking party

At their arraignment in Quincy District Court, both defendants pleaded not guilty and were released on personal recognizance. The judge scolded the mother for failing to supervise her son. They were ordered not to use alcohol or other drugs and to submit to random testing. Test results showing alcohol or drug use would be grounds to put them in jail for up to 60 days. The Probation Department will install a sobriety-testing device at the woman’s house as well. A probation surrender hearing will be held August 30 to determine whether this incident violates the terms of the woman’s probation from a May domestic violence case. In that incident, she was charged with two counts of assault and battery after going to her ex-husband’s home when she was intoxicated and attacking him with her shoe and punching him. If she is determined to have violated probation, she could go to jail.

In my view as a Massachusetts drunk driving defense attorney, it’s vitally important to recognize that Massachusetts’ social host law forbids adults to knowingly or intentionally provide alcohol to minors or to allow them to drink in their homes. The woman told police she didn’t know that the kids at her house were drinking. As a parent of an 18-year-old, it’s understandable that she may have thought she didn’t have to supervise her son and his friends, since her son is a legal adult in all respects except for drinking alcohol. Even if she heard them chanting “we got your shirt off” in the back yard, she may have just assumed they were being obnoxious, rather than that they were playing a drinking game like the police said.

Not paying attention to what teenagers are doing at your house, while perhaps inadvisable, is a far cry from knowingly and intentionally providing them with alcohol. The social host law may make sense for parents of kids under 18, over whom parents legally do have authority, but most parents of 18-21 year olds are trying to give their children the space to become adults and to live their own lives. Watching over them while they spend time with their friends is no way to do that. Anyone convicted of violating this law can be punished by a $2,000 fine or up to a year in prison, though, so the law forces parents to walk a difficult line between protecting themselves legally and encouraging their kids to become responsible adults.


A knowledgeable, assertive Massachusetts drunk riving criminal defense lawyer can help those charged with violation of the social host law or OUI. For help defending yourself against intoxicated driving charges in Boston and eastern Massachusetts, please call the Law Offices of Stephen Neyman, located in downtown Boston, at (617) 263-6800. You can also send us a message online.