Thursday, May 23, 2013

Not all Underage Drinking is Illegal

Hey parents - especially those of you with college students home for the summer - here's a piece of information you should know. Depending on where you live, not all underage drinking is against the law.
  • In 29 states, including Illinois, the consumption of alcohol is allowed on private, non-alcohol selling premises with parental consent.
  • In eight other states, it's allowable on private, non-alcohol selling premises without parental consent.
  • Eleven states, such as Wisconsin and Ohio, allow underage consumption of alcohol on alcohol selling premises with parental approval. 
  • Other states allow alcohol consumption for religious, medical and work purposes.
  • Nine states make no exceptions. 
If you want to check out the laws in your state, visit this drinking age website.  In Illinois, the Liquor Control Act of 1934 contains the provision below, which clearly states that if an underage child is in a private home and under parental supervision, they can have a drink. In fact, you can even give your friend's underage child a drink if you have their permission to "stand in loco parentis" for you.
The possession and dispensing, or consumption by a person under 21 years of age of alcoholic liquor in the performance of a religious service or ceremony, or the consumption by a person under 21 years of age under the direct supervision and approval of the parents or parent or those persons standing in loco parentis of such person under 21 years of age in the privacy of a home, is not prohibited by this Act.
When I learned this exception to the 21 year-old drinking age I was surprised, because no one ever talks about this! But it makes sense that parents should be able to introduce their children to alcohol in moderation and under supervision, because where else will that happen? Not at the frat pledge formal, that's for sure.

Summer can be a stressful time for parents of returning college students. It isn't easy to enforce limits on young adults who are used to making their own decisions and have almost certainly been exposed to partying at college. It's nice to know that if you give your college sophomore a Bud Light on the patio or a glass of wine at dinner, neither one of you is committing a crime. 

But before you host a kegger for a pack of parent approved 20 year-olds or pour your 15 year-old a margarita, listen to this. The law doesn't specifically prohibit these things, but you can still get in trouble. My trusted lawyer pal and noted defense attorney Barry Spector shared some serious watch-outs with me.

If kids leave your house with alcohol in their system, they can still be charged.
Spector says, "The practical problem is what happens when the kid leaves the privacy of his house after they've had a drink inside with the parents approval and supervision. The kid could still get charged and the defense would have to be raised in court."

Young people should not drive after having even a tiny amount of alcohol - adults can legally drive with a blood alcohol percentage of .08 but there is a zero tolerance for drivers under age 21. And there is still a risk to you as well. "Remember," cautions Spector, " if something went wrong, civil liability could always be a huge problem."

For minors, DCFS (Department of Children & Family Services) could get involved. 
The law doesn't state a lower age limit, but in the case of minors, "parents could be opening themselves up to DCFS investigation if the police/prosecutor thought the parents were putting a kid at risk for allowing consumption," says Spector. "The DCFS "threat" is extreme, but if someone called it into the DCFS hotline, there would have to be an investigation. The older the kid and the smaller amount of alcohol, the less likely there would be an "indicated finding" (DCFS lingo). It may not go anywhere, but who'd want to deal with that?" 

Even if the law permits underage drinking, other organizations may not.
You or your child may have signed a school, club or athletic conduct code that prohibits any form of underage drinking. So, even if giving your kid a drink isn't illegal in your state, it may result in unwanted penalties and sanctions from those organizations.

The bottom line is this: understanding the law enables both parents and young people to make better decisions. For more information on this subject, check out these stories I wrote (with Barry Spector's help) for Make it Better. Here's to a happy, safe summer for all of us!


amkovacs said...

Thank you Marjie. This was very useful. I know about Wisconsin, because, for some really obscure reason (not), it's the first thing we learned as parents as we visited our son as a Freshman at Madison, WI. I guess this is the first thing they learn! And perhaps the main reason they ever want their parents to visit.

Marjie Killeen said...

Glad it was useful AMK! It must be more fun to visit your son at Wisconsin than say, Michigan, where the only exceptions are for medical/religious/education purposes.

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