Underage drinking has leveled off recently. But it still directly or indirectly contributes to about 4,300 deaths annually in the United States.[1] Children’s still-developing bodies and low weight make it hard to process alcohol. One or two drinks to a 16-year-old is like four or five drinks to a 36-year-old. Additionally, underage drinking often causes early-onset alcohol use disorder (AUD). To put it bluntly, high alcohol consumption ravages the brain and body, causing many emotional and physical problems.

New York law targets caregivers, and not children, in this area. Minor in Possession (MIP) is a traffic ticket in New York. Providing alcohol to a minor, except in some situations, is usually a misdemeanor or felony. In many cases, these laws apply even if the parent didn’t give the child a drop of alcohol. A Rochester underage drinking lawyer attacks the state’s evidence and reduces or eliminates the direct and collateral consequences of an underage drinking-related offense.

Social Host Liability

Like MIP, “knowingly allowing a party, gathering, or event where minors are present and alcoholic beverages are consumed by one or more minors” is a violation. Since the offense is not severe, many people don’t need a Rochester underage drinking lawyer to represent them, especially if it’s a first offense. But, as outlined below, the collateral consequences could be severe. So, a lawyer must act quickly to get the charge thrown out of court.

The ”knowingly” element is usually the most challenging part to prove in court. Frequently, Mom and Dad leave for the weekend, so Jack and Jill throw a party. A ne’er-do-well kid brings booze, the party gets rowdy, a neighbor calls the police, the cops show up, and the parents get in trouble.

Before we get to “knowingly,” there’s a preliminary matter. Frequently, the neighbor is a tattletale, and the tip is unreliable. That’s especially true if the neighbor has a history of swatting (falsely summoning police officers). Prosecutors cannot work backward. They cannot argue that the tip was accurate and, therefore, reliable. Accuracy and reliability are two different things.

As for “knowingly,” Jack and Jill’s prior conduct is relevant. Occasionally, Mom and Dad are babes in the woods who had no idea their darling children would throw a wild party. Mom and Dad say a few times, “Don’t throw a party, and don’t open the liquor cabinet.” Generally, the facts are somewhere in between. The facts must gravitate towards that second example because prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

These convictions often prompt child services investigations. Because social host liability isn’t too severe, most investigators let parents off with a warning, especially if no one got hurt and the parents have a clean record. Nevertheless, an investigator will show up, poke around, and ask uncomfortable questions.

Unlawfully Dealing with a Child

Selling or giving alcohol to someone over 17 but under 21 is a Class A misdemeanor in New York (maximum one year in jail and $1,000 fine). There’s a big difference between knowingly allowing consumption and giving or selling alcohol directly to a minor, which is what Section 260.20 requires.

The burden of proof in these cases is relevant as well. Usually, a competent witness must see the defendant give booze to the underage person. These witnesses don’t grow on trees.

Most red states allow supervised or in-home minor consumption of alcohol. Most blue states, including New York, don’t have this exception.

An exception might apply in the Empire State if the minor consumed alcohol as part of a religious service or if the defendant is a teacher and “the tasting or imbibing of alcoholic beverages is required in courses that are given only for instructional purpose during classes conducted according to such curriculum.” We didn’t know that wine tasting was a high school or college elective, but there are many things we don’t know.

Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor

Section 260.10 is a combination of unlawfully dealing with a child and social host liability. If the child is under 17, it’s a misdemeanor to act “in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child.” This broad wording could include directly or indirectly providing alcohol to a minor.

The exact proof problems and collateral consequences discussed above apply in these cases. The collateral consequences are usually worse. Even if the parent has a clean record, child welfare almost always takes adverse action in these cases because of the child’s age. That adverse action is rarely removed but usually involves parenting classes and other measures.

There’s a big difference between a criminal arrest and a criminal conviction. Contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi for a free consultation with an experienced Rochester underage drinking attorney. We routinely handle matters in Monroe County and nearby jurisdictions.



[1] https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/pep21-03-10-008.pdf

The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.

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