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Underage drinking: does NY allow me to serve my teenager alcohol?

Underage drinking in New York applies to anyone who is under 21-years-old. Anyone over the age of 21 may imbibe alcoholic beverages in public and private, as long as they are not prevented from doing so by a court of law. This is virtually universal knowledge, but what is not widely known and is often inquired about by parents is whether they can serve their teenager, and sometimes their teenager’s friends, alcohol in the comfort of their own home.

The answer to this question is no. Parents are prohibited from serving alcohol to their children in their own home. More specifically, Suffolk County’s Social Host Law states that anyone who is over the age of 18, who owns or rents a residence or dwelling unit of any kind, including the yard surrounding the residence, is prohibited from knowingly allowing minors to consume alcohol on the premises, or failing to take “corrective action” upon learning of the underage consumption of alcohol. A reasonable corrective action is, but is not limited to, promptly demanding that the underage people stop consuming the alcohol or leave. If they refuse to comply with, the adult must report the underage drinking to the local police or to any other person with greater degree of authority over the minor, like the minor’s parents.

The consequences of the Social Host Law are serious. For the first offense, the adult can be fined up to $500, and for a subsequent offense, the adult can be charged with a misdemeanor, resulting in a fine up to $1,000 and/or up to a year in prison. These penalties cost parents large amounts of money, missed time at work due to court dates or imprisonment and even custody of their child, if they are penalized with a prison term.

Many parents charged under Suffolk County’s Social Host Law may not fully understand the law, or may not even know that their teenagers were drinking underage, but still can face extreme penalties. It is very important that anyone charged under this law contact a knowledgeable and experienced attorney for help with a defense against this harsh law, as well as for assistance in minimizing the expenses that come with being accused.

Source: Alcoholic Beverage Control State Liquor Authority & New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, “Alcohol & Your Child,” accessed on Oct. 31, 2014