Most people understand that teenage drinking and underage drinking is illegal and can lead to criminal consequences for the teenager. For example, the underage person may face criminal charges and can lose various privileges such as their driving privileges.

However, many states such as Illinois are also imposing legal consequences on adults who serve alcohol to teenagers, or who allow teenager to drink while at their homes. In some cases, the adult doesn’t even need to personally hand the teenager the drink. The mere fact that teenage was drinking in the adult’s presence may cause the adult to be held liable.

Also, some states enforce “presence ordinances” which state that if underage drinking is happening at a social event, then all persons present may be assumed to have been drinking. This can lead to very heavy liabilities for the owner of the home under social host liability laws.

What Are the Penalties Associated with Adult Liability for Teen Drinking?

This will depend on the laws of each state as well as the specific circumstances in each case. Under some newer state laws, adults can face misdemeanor charges for providing alcohol to a minor. Misdemeanors usually involve criminal fines and jail sentences of up to one year. The adult may be held liable even if the alcohol didn’t cause any injuries to the teen or other parties.

However, if serving alcohol to the teenager does cause injuries, the adult may then face felony charges in some cases. This is especially true if drunk driving or DUI injuries result. Felony charges are much more difficult to deal with, as they involve higher criminal fines and a possible sentence in a prison facility for longer than one year.

Lastly, as mentioned, the adult sometimes doesn’t have to physically hand the drink to the underage person; if they should have reasonably known that there would be underage drinking on their property, but failed to stop it, they might be held liable as well.

Are There Any Defenses for Adult Liability for Teen Drinking?

There may be some defenses that can be raised for these types of charges. For example, if the person wasn’t actually under the legal drinking age, they might be able to get the charges dropped. Or, it may be a defense if the person wasn’t able to prevent the drinking from occurring (for example, they made a good faith attempt to stop the drinking but were prevented from doing so by physical force).  

However, raising such defenses can sometimes be complicated and require a detailed analysis of all the different facts involved in the incident.  In most cases, it’s necessary to hire a criminal lawyer for help with legal defenses to such charges.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Assistance with Teen Drinking laws?

Adult liability for teen drinking is becoming increasingly common among the 50 U.S. states. If you have any legal inquiries, disputes, or concerns involving social host and underage drinking, you should contact a qualified criminal lawyer immediately. An attorney can advise you on what your legal rights are, and how you should proceed. Your lawyer can also defend your interests in court in the event that a lawsuit or court hearing becomes necessary.