laws on adults allowing minors to drink

Maryland Has Stiffened Enforcement of Adults Who Allow Minors to Drink

Furnishing alcohol to minors or knowingly and willingly allowing an underage person to drink to consume alcohol on the property of an adult is against the law in Maryland under most circumstances. Penalties for violations were enhanced in 2016 with the passage of Alex and Calvin’s Law, named after two underage teens who were killed as passengers in a car crash after leaving a party held at the home of a friend whose father allowed several teens to drink heavily in their basement.

Alex and Calvin’s Law amended the current criminal code to add stiffer penalties for adults who are cited for violations. The new law took effect on October 1, 2016, and since it was implemented, we have seen an uptick in cases brought against alleged offenders.

Maryland Furnishing Alcohol to Minors Laws

The Maryland Criminal Code (§ 10-116 and § 10-117) prohibits adults from supplying, giving, or providing alcohol while having good reason to know that the recipient is a minor, and “knowingly and willfully” allowing a minor to possess or consume alcohol at a residence owned or managed by the adult. The law also includes enhanced penalties if adults violate these statutes and it results in the minor operating a motor vehicle after consuming alcoholic beverages and causing serious physical injury or death.

Exceptions to the Law

Maryland recognizes three exceptions to the law:

  • Immediate Family: Minors are allowed to consume alcohol that is provided by an immediate family member who is an adult, as long as the alcohol is possessed and consumed on the private residence or property of the adult.
  • Religious Ceremonies: A minor may possess or consume alcohol as part of a religious ceremony, such as a Catholic Mass.
  • Employment: A minor employed by an establishment that is licensed to sell alcohol may possess or control alcohol but not consume it during the course of employment and within regular working hours.

What Changed with Alex and Calvin’s Law?

The primary reason for the passage of Alex and Calvin’s Law in 2016 was the complaint that the penalties for violating Maryland’s furnishing alcohol to minors laws were not enough of a deterrent. Kenneth Saltzman, the adult who owned the home where Alex and Calvin attended the party on the night they were killed, received two citations and paid $5,000 in fines, the maximum penalty under the law at the time. Advocates of the new law complained that Saltzman’s penalty amounted to a slap on the wrist, and that it would not do enough to prevent him (and others) from repeated violations.

Alex and Calvin’s Law enhanced the penalties for those who allow minors to drink in their home and the intoxicated minor operates a motor vehicle resulting in an accident that causes serious physical injury or death (§ 10-117 (d)). Prior to the passage of the law, the maximum penalty for a first offense conviction under Section D was a fine of up to $2,500. Under the new law, the maximum fine is doubled to $5,000, and offenders can receive up to one year in jail. (§ 10-121).

Adults Must Be Aware and Approve of Underage Alcohol Consumption

It is important to note that adults cannot be held responsible for the consumption of alcohol by minors on their property if they did not “knowingly and willfully” allow this to occur. This was reaffirmed by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Hansberger v. Smith, 229 Md. App. 1 (2016) In this case, two field parties where underage drinking occurred were held in Frederick County, MD on the night of July 8, 2008. At the second party, a brawl ensued resulting in one of the teens suffering a permanent head injury.

The court granted a summary judgment in favor of the defendants in this case, finding no evidence that the defendants had knowledge that the parties occurred. The court stated:

what is blameworthy here is not merely that an underage person drinks alcohol on an adult’s property, but that, as stated in CR § 10-117(b), the adult `knowingly and willfully’ allows an underage person to drink on the premises… therefore, a violation of (a) alone does not create a cause of action for negligence.

As we all know, a large percentage of underage gatherings where alcohol is consumed occur without the knowledge of the parents or any other adults over age 21. As Hansberger v. Smith underscores, adults in such cases cannot be held liable for the alcohol consumption of minors if they did not know about or approve of these actions.

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