Unlawfully hosting minors for underage drinking party; the DO's and Dont's as a parent

Posted by Matt McLane | Feb 10, 2022 | 0 Comments

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 usually results in probation for the parent.  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 worst case scenario, the mother and daughter both get 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 your house provides a safer environment for them to drink compared to an unknown destination that probably does not have any adult supervision whatsoever.  In this event, an accused can reasonably argue it is less safe for their teenager to drink outside the home where other variables may exist, such as drugs, older kids (boys) with unknown motives, and persons of questionable character. NOTE: this argument does NOT work in Leawood...I tried and failed in 2021.

I have represented parents and 18 year-old adults faced with these charges.  Generally speaking, I can work out a short-term diversion for one or both parties that allows the case to get dismissed after a period of time and no further hosting violations.  The diversion fee will be $1000 since the statue requires a minimum fine of $1000.  Prosecutors will not deviate from the minimum diversion cost as they feel they are cutting you a break by offering diversion.  In my opinion, diversion is the most practical and fair resolution so long as there are no additional requirements such as drug and alcohol counseling (not appropriate for merely hosting).  In rare situations, however, the prosecutor will dig in and refuse to offer diversion where the parent or parents were not exactly cooperative during the police interview on the front porch or front yard.  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 when the case gets filed.  

I have not discussed any defenses to this situation.  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 (Lack of a subwoofer connected to the sound system?).  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 under "Paul's Law" 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 or alibi.  Each case is different.  My goal is to find a defense and present in a responsible and persuasive manner.  

About the Author

Matt McLane

Matt McLane was born in Topeka, Kansas, and moved to Pittsburg, Kansas in 1980 where he attended middle school, high school and college. Upon graduation from PSU in 1992, Matt moved back to Topeka where he attended Washburn University law school. Upon graduation, he moved to Overland Park and worked in a small firm handling DUI and traffic cases. He opened the McLane Law Firm in April 2011 and has built his firm on a strong referral base and solid reputation.

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McLane Law Firm

Matt McLane has been defending individuals charged with DUI, traffic and criminal offenses since his graduation from Washburn University Law School in 1996. Licensed in the states of Kansas and Missouri. Mr. McLane specializes in DUI and criminal defense throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area.

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