Underage Drinking & the Law

What parents need to know now about the new Social Host Laws

If only the laws were mock versions, too

Buried deep in an article about car accident reenactments for Park Rapids, MN students, the importance of seat-belts and the dangers of texting while driving, were these brief, disturbingly understated, paragraphs about the current state of Social Host Laws in Minnesota:


“More than 70 Minnesota cities and counties have implemented social host ordinances, which make it unlawful to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place, regardless of who provides the alcohol.[emphasis mine]

As a misdemeanor, any host [including teens] found criminally responsible of violating the social host ordinance will face a penalty of time in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

Adults who provide alcohol to minors [inaccurate: all that’s required for liability is that you rent, manage or own the place where drinking takes place] can be held responsible and suffer serious criminal, legal and financial consequences, including: felony charges and prison time in the case of death; civil liability charges in the case of injury, property damage or death; and increased insurance rates.”

Prison time? Felony charges? Civil lawsuits? Without any explicit cause of action* by the student or adult? Thank you Park Rapids Enterprise for the scary story. Next time, please don’t bury the lead.

* explicit cause of action means that there must be a connection between the acts of the defendant and damages [http://dictionary.law.com].


To learn more:

Mock accident an eye opener for students. April 30, 2011 – Park Rapids Enterprise  – Byline: Anna Erickson and Sarah Smith,

2 comments on “If only the laws were mock versions, too

  1. Just a comment on your statement regarding the potential consequences of an adult providing alcohol to a minor: The Social Host Ordinance referred to in this article results in a criminal charge of a misdemeanor which may result in up to a $1000 fine, 90 days in jail or both for each count. Providing alcohol to a minor is different, it is a gross misdemeanor which can result in up to a $3000 fine and up to a year in jail. Civil charges are separate and may result in all of the consequences you mentioned, but most likely will only occur if there is an accident or injury, which is what the Social Host Ordinance is trying to prevent by curbing underage access to alcohol.
    Yes, this is definitely something people need to be aware of, but don’t go after the Social Host Ordinance on civil liability, it is a criminal offense. The responsibility of those being permissible to a youth, whose brain is already not well-versed on determining consequences, is simply that. If you choose to knowingly stand by and let it happen on your property or at your event, you are responsible for your actions under the law. Unfortunately for you, if that minor ends up hurting themselves or someone else after they drank, you get to deal with the civil liability as well. But that was there before the Social Host Ordinances came on the books.

    • H. M. Epstein
      June 9, 2011

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. But please let me correct what is a common misconception and the main reason for this website and my upcoming book.

      First, the Social Host Ordinances (SHOs) referred to in this article are NOT about the “consequences of an adult providing alcohol to a minor:” As you pointed out, there are other laws in Minnesota and the rest of the country that pertain to that. The SHOs throughout most of Minnesota are also NOT about permissive adults who “knowingly stand by” and let minors drink on their property. The communities and states that have the phrase “knowingly” in their ordinances have been praised many times on this site. (For examples, please see “The three little words that make all the difference” and “Why I’m rooting for Oklahoma’s Social Host Law“)

      What is egregious about the SHOs referred to in the quoted article (and in many other communities) is that they pertain to children as well as adults, they don’t require any proof that the hosts provided alcohol, knew alcohol was present or even knew that a gathering was planned. These law have ruined good peoples’ lives who were truly innocent of allowing underage alcohol consumption in their homes, including community officials, law enforcement personnel and teachers. As for the reference to “civil liability”, that was mentioned in the quoted section from article. I just responded to it.

      It seems that Hubbard County Youth Drug & Alcohol Task Force does a great deal of important work. I’m certain when you got involved, your goal was to help kids in bad situations; not add to their problems with criminal charges because they allowed three of their friends to drink beer at their home. I’ve read most of the laws and that is what they say. (Please see “Catch 21: The teen trap“)

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