Who’s Minding the Children? Florida’s “Open House Party” Law Enforced

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It’s nothing new- underage drinking while parents weren’t watching. But what about when parents are not only watching, but supplying the alcohol to their children? The ramifications, both moral and legal, are at the forefront of this issue. Many parents feel that allowing their kids to drink at home under their roof makes it safer and less of the “forbidden fruit” syndrome. They feel that by monitoring the amount of alcohol consumed by their teens makes for “responsible” drinking. Many parents have even extended these allowances to the friends of their children. They feel that by removing the taboo along with taking the car keys, the situation is a safe one. They view it as a rite of passage. They may feel it is a safe situation but it is certainly not a legal one. In 1995, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the “open house party” law. This law states that if anyone under 21 years of age is caught drinking alcohol or using drugs in your home or on your property, you will be arrested. The charge is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Underage drinking has cost the residents of Florida $3 billion dollars. Palm Beach County residents foot the bill for $223 million of that.

Perhaps the Florida Supreme Court will change the minds of parents by enforcing the law holding parents responsible for supplying alcohol to underage drinkers. Recently, in Boca Raton, Florida, several families have been made an example of the “open house party” law. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the parents were arrested for knowingly having, allowing and supplying alcohol at their homes to several hundred children. One parent thought the charges were unreasonable. His feeling is that the law is not realistic and that teens aren’t going to sit around drinking milk and cookies.

There are still many teens that make the decision to abstain from alcohol. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, more and more teens are enjoying drug free parties. Community organizations, schools and parents are all hosting these alcohol free parties with big turnouts.

The legal consequences that can follow a family who allows alcohol at their home and gets caught are serious and can follow them for years to come. If anyone is injured or killed because of the events, the financial consequences to the homeowner can be even more significant, as the law can hold the homeowner responsible for any resulting injury and economic loss suffered by an underage drinker.