Massachusetts “Social Host” law makes adults responsible for the actions of teens under their watch. It is illegal for adults to provide, supply, or furnish alcohol to anyone under age (under 21), and also to knowingly allow underage drinking in one’s home.
The charges can be pretty clear cut if parents or adults actually directly provided alcohol to underage kids. But things get complicated if the police don’t know, and the Commonwealth can’t prove that adults were aware of the party & drinking going on. For example, if the parents were away, or kids were drinking in the basement and the parents didn’t know they had access to alcohol, that could be a legitimate legal defense.
Social host charges or a criminal citation to appear at a clerk magistrate’s hearing, to be are far more likely to be applied if the party was the direct cause of a serious incident. That could be an injury, a DUI, or, these days, a COVID outbreak and school closings, such as recently happened in Lincoln-Sudbury.
Massachusetts Social Host Penalties
Penalties for violating the alcohol social host law is a misdemeanor offense, which can be fines of up to $2000, and a year in jail if convicted.
Charges of violating the social host law are much more likely if the underage drinking results in someone drinking and driving and getting charged with an OUI if the alcohol consumption leads to injury or death. Having a rowdy party can also lead to a misdemeanor “keeping a disorderly house” charges.
There are a wide variety of circumstances that can lead to this charge. These cases come to light more frequently based on the actions of the kids. If rowdy behavior leads to drunk driving or serious accidents, the circumstances of drinking will be investigated. Social host charges can also simply result from a loud party if the police are called.
Most parents and adults do not condone or support their kids drinking, but there are certainly a strong minority of situations where parents do provide alcohol at home in what they would consider a “safe” environment. This itself is only legal in rare circumstances of family permission in one’s own home (see below)
Either way, this can be a relatively serious criminal charge, and in cases where there are big parties of teens, or if someone ends up getting injured or killed as a result. If a story like this makes local headlines, criminal charges are much more likely to be filed, regardless of whether the adults knew of the event.
Criminal Charges of Providing Alcohol to Underage Persons
The statute against selling, providing, or furnishing any alcoholic beverage to a person under the age of 21 is in Chapter 138, Section 34 of the Massachusetts General Laws.
The maximum penalty is up to a year in jail, and a $2000 fine per incident.
Simply “allowing” alcohol to be consumed by a minor person is sufficient to violate the social host provision of the alcohol law.
Can I fight a charge of supplying alcohol to teenagers?
Yes, we have defended charges like these, specifically on the grounds of not having specifically “allowed” the consumption of alcohol or being aware that it was happening on the premises.
Just because kids are in your house drinking, doesn’t mean that you were aware that it was happening.
Call us to discuss the legal defense options in your specific case, whether you were arrested or issued a criminal citation to appear at a Clerk Magistrate’s hearing.
Is legal for a teenager to drink in his own home with his or her parent’s permission?
Yes, that is the only circumstance where underage drinking is allowed. If the parents or grandparents allow alcohol consumption in their own homes, it is not against the law. This exception is primarily intended for traditional gatherings where some families provide wine to all family members at dinner or celebrations, which is why the exception for children and grandchildren is explicitly written into the law.
But you would expect that any law enforcement involvement would look very carefully at any situation where an underage person was actually intoxicated. Were that the case, police might also attempt to bring child endangerment charges.
Further reading on Massachusetts social host laws
This article from the Globe ten years ago discusses social host law examples, and when it may be too harsh or not sufficient.