Nassau County passed the first-ever Social Host Law in New York State. The law prohibits anyone over the age of 18 from allowing alcohol consumption by anyone under 21 years of age on premises that they own, rent or otherwise control. Before the law came into effect in 2007, a person would only get arrested if the minor consuming alcohol became intoxicated. Now mere consumption of alcohol by someone under 21 is a crime even if the child does not get drunk. Through my not-for-profit organization The Law Squad™ I have lectured about this law and its consequences all across Nassau and Suffolk Counties. A question that always comes up is whether a teenager left at home without parental supervision can be arrested for this if he allows his buddies to come over and drink. The answer is YES and then I am asked well does “over the age of 18” mean “18 and one day” or does it mean “19”? Now you might think that these are the kinds of questions that normally only law students ponder, but they do have real life consequences. Judges in Nassau County had ruled that over 18 meant having reached 19.
Well yesterday in the case of People v. Lam the Appellate Term ruled that “over 18” applies to anyone who has passed their 18th birthday – so 18 and a day essentially. So if you leave junior home because you want to hide your head in the sand or you don’t want to get arrested yourself, realize you are exposing your 18 year old to arrest. The Lam case was the typical scenario occurring in suburban homes across Long Island. Sherman Lam wanted to throw a birthday party to celebrate the 18th birthday of a friend of his. So he invited 17 of his friends over his house in the exclusive Flower Hill district of Manhasset, one of the toniest, wealthiest areas in the country. Its like a theme party! 18 people to celebrate 18 years! Ya gotta love Manhasset!
Of course adults were nowhere to be found and everyone brought over beer. Predictably, the party got out of hand and loud and Nassau’s finest were sent over after complaints from neighbors. The cops found 75 empty beer cans and guests ranging from 17 to 19. Little Lam admitted it was his house and he was arrested and carted off.
So this law actually allows people to be arrested and charged even if they are younger than some of the other underage people drinking. It also makes homeowners responsible if they were unaware but should have been aware that alcohol was being consumed by those under 21. This greatly increases the exposure to homeowners to arrests. Not only that, but your homeowners’ insurance company will likely disclaim coverage if one of these geniuses drinking at your home gets hurt or hurts someone else and you get sued. Insurance companies don’t like to defend conduct that is criminal. At my office we have had to help homeowners force their insurance companies to defend them in these types of claims over the years. The Social Host Law has made it more difficult and even though we have been successful, its an uphill battle that people don’t expect to face and which adds additional stress to any already stressful situation.
So the moral of the story is police your home and your kids before the actual police do it for you.