What parents need to know now about the new Social Host Laws
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In a landmark Social Host Law case, single mom Tiffany Clark has been found guilty of furnishing* alcohol to minors, sentenced with the most extreme penalties we’ve recorded to date and separated from her children.
A year and a half ago, Tiffany Clark told her daughter she could throw a Halloween party on in their public housing apartment in Beverly Massachusetts. Now, the single mom’s decision, and her actions that night, will haunt her for years to come.
What did Clark do wrong? Nothing. It is because she did a whole lot of nothing, that her life, and her children’s lives, are ruined. Clark didn’t stop to think when her daughter asked how to make Jello. Police found dozens of empty small plastic cups commonly used to make jello-shots. Clark didn’t stop the teens from drinking when she got home from work as a supermarket cashier. The prosecutor showed the jury photographs of Clark smoking and texting, surrounded by dozens of teens drinking beer and the little jello shots. And, when a 16 year old girl, who was purported to be her daughter’s best friend at the time of the party, told her she couldn’t breathe, Clark didn’t call 911 or the girl’s mother.
Oh, wait, she did do three things at this point. She held the girls’ hair while she vomited, she gave the girl an asthma inhaler — which could have caused far greater injury to a non-asthmatic — and she drank enough beer that she was unsteady by the time the police arrived.
Luckily, the girl had called a cousin to pick her up. When she passed out in his car, he rushed her to the emergency room where she diagnosed with alcohol poisoning. Six hours later, she was home.
Tiffany Clark and her children are not going home. Today, Clark was sentenced to the maximum penalty of a year in jail. She’ll spend the first half behind bars and the second half on house arrest wearing an ankle monitor.
But that’s not all. Clark will have a total of three years probation (the house arrest is part of that) although she returns to jail for another six months if she gets into any trouble while on probation. Over the total three and half-year period, Clark will wear a Sobrietor bracelet, so she can be tested for alcohol use remotely, undergo substance abuse and mental health evaluations, attend a half-day brain injury awareness program and pay a token restitution of $100 to the teen who was hospitalized.
There’s no question that Clark’s actions and inactions were thoughtless and dangerous. She was as unprepared to handle this party, as it seems she’s unprepared for life.
Despite all of that, the sentence seems out-of-scale. Clark is a single mom, living at subsistence level, whose ex is a deadbeat dad, behind in child payments. She has no criminal record. It is doubtful she was ever aware the law existed, or that she would have understood all the ramifications if she knew since so many affluent, well-educated parents still don’t. The Massachusetts law* is a particularly difficult one to follow.
While Clark will pay the price for her ignorance and poor decisions for the rest of her life, her children are the ones who are being punished the most. Six months in jail and six months of house arrest for mom means the children have lost their home, will have to enter the system, maybe change schools. Daughter Kayla Clark pleaded with the judge that it was her fault. She collapsed outside the courthouse after the sentencing. Even the spokeswoman for the district attorney, Carrie Kimball Monahan, said this is the first time she’s heard of a person given jail time for furnishing alcohol to minors when none of the guests died.
One more point. If Tiffany Clark had not come home to find an apartment filled with drunk kids before the police showed up, her daughter Kayla would have been the one arrested. Massachusetts’ furnishing law isn’t limited to adults. Any age person is liable under the law.
* In Massachusetts, the definition of furnishing was expanded to include “allow” a minor to possess alcohol. From the General Laws of Massachusetts – Chapter 138 Alcoholic Liquors. Section 34.
For the purpose of this section the word “furnish” shall mean to knowingly or intentionally supply, give, or provide to or allow a person under 21 years of age except for the children and grandchildren of the person being charged to possess alcoholic beverages on premises or property owned or controlled by the person charged.