As high school graduation month approaches, we can look at the situation many parents (including me) may face: playing host to family and friends gathered to celebrate the recent graduation of young John or Jane Doe. These parties are usually fun and appear innocent. Yet as the day progresses and more young kids appear at the door for the party, the legal issue first presents itself: Do we, as "responsible" parents, allow these kids free reign to drink in our presence? Or do we take the road less traveled and shut it down before the party gets out of hand? I have personally experienced both sides of this dilemma in real time. I have two teenage daughters who are pushing the limits when it comes to hosting underage drinking parties.
What kids, and some parents, don't realize is that Kansas law has targeted this very situation outlined above. Known as "Paul's law," K.S.A. 21-5608 makes it a Class A misdemeanor to allow minors to consume alcohol in your residence or a rented space. The term "reckless" is used in the definition: one can be charged for "recklessly" permitting a person's residence....to be used by an invitee of such person or person's child (meaning friends of your child) in a manner that results in the unlawful possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor. In other words, you violate this statute every time you permit underage kids to drink in your house. And we know these situations occur every weekend in homes across Johnson County. To give this perspective, a 2nd-offense DUI case is filed as a Class A misdemeanor in Kansas. The social hosting law carries a minimum fine of $1000 (DUI-2nd is $1250) and could subject you to a court-supervised probation . The teenager turning 18 years-old and who is hosting the party with her parent's consent is also subject to the social hosting law. In a 2021 case I handled in Johnson County, the mother and daughter both got charged under the statute since each are adults who allowed under-age drinking at their residence.
Without going into great detail, the social-host law was enacted after a Lenexa teenager was killed in an auto accident leaving a house party where the homeowners allowed the drinking to occur. There were also numerous incidents in Lawrence, Kansas in which over-18 college students were hosting parties attended by underage students. The lawmakers had heard enough complaints and news-worthy stories of these parties getting out of hand. Thus, "Paul's Law" was born and continues to be enforced in our communities in Kansas.
As a parent, I have mixed feelings about the law. If kids can't drink at home, they will certainly find a space to do so. The issue is whether hosting a party at your house is in everyone's best interest. If at least one parent of each kid attended the party, then the law does not apply since Kansas law allows a minor to drink under the supervision of a parent. But that rarely occurs. In my experience, kids will show up uninvited and the party now becomes a much bigger event than was anticipated. At this point, the social hosting law comes into play: as the host, you are on the hook if police show up to investigate the party and specifically the age of the partygoers. Some of my clients choose to cooperate with police while others do not. Often, I will review the body camera video from the officers on scene and determine whether or not my client was in fact uncooperative.
I have represented parents and 18 year-old adults faced with these charges. If my client wishes to pursue a plea agreement, then I try to work out a short-term diversion that allows the case to get dismissed after a certain period with no similar violations of hosting. In this instance, the diversion fee will be at least $1000 since the law requires a minimum fine of $1000 (see above). In my opinion, diversion is the most practical and fair resolution despite the high diversion fees. In rare situations the prosecutor may dig in and refuse to offer diversion where the parent or parents were not exactly cooperative during the police interview at the property. While homeowners have every right to refuse consent to an officer to enter their house, they do so at the risk of losing any leverage during plea negotiations with the prosecutor. Simply put, a lack of cooperation with police may interfere with efforts by your attorney to secure a diversion or other favorable plea agreement prior to a trial setting.
As for plausible defenses to this charge, the most obvious defense is a "lack of knowledge" by the homeowner. This would come into play if the homeowner is absent or in a different building where the party is held. Or, perhaps the homeowner was asleep at all times during the party and therefore not aware what was occurring inside or outside the house. But in most cases, there is usually some evidence that the homeowner knew or should have known that underage drinking was taking place in their home. If you are facing a charge of Social Hosting in Kansas, feel free to contact my office for a more detailed discussion and possible defenses to your case. You may have a legitimate defense. Each case is different. My goal is to find a defense and present it in a responsible and persuasive manner to the prosecutor.