Underage Drinking & the Law

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

Rhode Island Governor’s son charged and headed for court

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After almost 12 weeks of investigation by the Rhode Island state police and much deliberation by the state’s Attorney General’s office, 18-year-old Caleb Chafee, was charged under R.I.G.L 3-8-11.1, also known as the “social host law,” for allegedly hosting a private school graduation party in May with alcohol at his family’s Exeter home. He was issued a summons earlier on Friday to appear before Washington County District Court on Aug. 22.

State police discovered the party when they rescued an inebriated girl who says Caleb told her to leave the party and call 911 once she was off the property. She ended up hospitalized. This was barely a month after he pleaded no contest to charges of “being a person under 21 entering an establishment to buy alcohol”.

At the time the story broke in late June, Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s response to the media was upbeat and supportive of his son. According to news radio station WPRO 630 he said, “I am very proud of what Caleb has done in school, … in a very, very competitive Portsmouth Abbey environment …Youngsters let off steam… and we will deal with some of the issues in a private way.”

This afternoon, the Governor’s office issued a statement that viewed the incident more realistically. In it, the Governor spoke about how he and his wife “have been concerned and disappointed by the details of the event in question, as any parents would be.” It included the hope that the incident “has provided an opportunity for a dialogue about the dangerous and potentially harmful effects of underage drinking. Hopefully many parents took this occasion to speak with their children about this important topic.”

Dealing with these issues privately has not been a privilege offered to other Rhode Island residents, like Jesse Poznanski  or former Providence Police Chief’ Col. Dean Esserman or former Chariho School Committee member Terri Serra who is currently fighting several charges in court, all of whom have been greatly impacted by Rhode Island’s Social Host laws in the past year or so.

If convicted, Caleb Chafee may be liable for fines of up to $500, the possibility of attending an educational program about the dangers of underage alcohol use and up to 30 hours of community service. These consequences will be minor compared to the public pummeling the young man has experienced in the past three and half months since his first appearance in court for the attempt to purchase alcohol in late April.

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