Congratulations -- you're finally 21 years old and about to have your first New Year's party! Just make sure that you observe a few rules so that you don't end up bringing the new year in with some major legal fees and jail time. If you're a young adult who still has some underage friends, this is what you should know:
What type of problems can you face?
You may not think of your friends -- many of whom are still between the ages of 18 and 21 -- as "minors" but, when alcohol is involved, the law does. While state laws vary in their wording, it's illegal in all states to purchase or give liquor to anyone under the age of 21. The only thing that tends to vary a bit is the penalty for doing so and any exceptions to the rules. (If you're looking for an exception that applies to your situation, you're probably out of luck unless the person under 21 is a close relative and you're his or her legal guardian or spouse.)
If your friend happens to be under 18, you can end up in even bigger trouble. In some cases, the penalties are enhanced, and you could face additional charges related to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. When you do something illegal in the presence of a minor or encourage the minor to do something illegal, that's in violation of the law.
You're probably thinking that nobody at your party is going to turn you in, and that might be true, but consider this: what happens if the neighbors complain because one of your guests has a little too much to drink and makes some noise? What happens if the parents of one of your underage guests find out and report you to the police? At that point, you'll face an investigation and may get dragged into court.
What happens if you didn't know a minor was drinking?
What happens if you tell your friends that the only ones who can drink are the ones who are over 21, but someone decides to sneak a few beers anyhow and gets caught, perhaps on the way home? At that point, you do have a possible defense.
The laws provide for the fact that you shouldn't be held responsible for giving alcohol to a minor if you didn't know the person was a minor or didn't know that they were drinking. For example, if your friend's out-of-state cousin shows up to the party, you have no reason to disbelieve him if he tells you that he's 22. If you find out later that he was only 19, you have a reasonable defense.
If one of your underage guests managed to sneak some alcohol into a drink, or another guest gives him or her something alcoholic, you can also assert a defense that you were unaware of what was happening. Fortunately, the law expects you to take reasonable steps to follow the law, but it doesn't expect you to be perfect.
For more information, contact Scott L. Kramer Law Office or a similar firm.