Penalties for Providing Alcohol to a Minor and Massachusetts Alcohol Laws

In Massachusetts, it is a criminal offense to furnish alcohol to a minor under the legal drinking age of 21. However, in order to understand the legal implications of this law, also called the “social hosting law,” it’s important to first note that there are exceptions to the legal alcohol consumption age here in the commonwealth.

Exceptions are made for a minor to legally possess alcohol while in the presence of a consenting parent or legal guardian; and for an under-21 spouse to possess alcohol while with their legal drinking age spouse who is 21 or older.

So, if you and your children were at home enjoying a round of champagne together, no problem. You can legally serve your own underage child an alcoholic beverage without violating any Massachusetts laws.

Serving drinks to someone else’s child, however, becomes a criminal offense and if proven, you could be facing jail time and a fine – or both.

Moreover, you can be sued in civil court for damages as social hosting laws aim to split the liability between you as the host, and the consumer of alcohol (underage drinker) you supplied who subsequently injures a third party.

What does “furnishing” alcohol to a minor mean?

Under M.G.L. c. 138, s. 34, to “furnish” means to knowingly or intentionally supply, give, provide or allow to possess alcoholic beverages on your property or any premises you control. This includes charges such as “supplying alcohol to minors,” “furnishing alcohol to a minor,” and “providing alcohol to a minor.”

Recent case law has loosened the social host liability in Mass. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the host of a party where others are drinking can only be held liable for related injuries if they had direct control over the supply of alcohol to guests, or they actually served the alcohol to the guest/s.

The penalty if convicted of furnishing to one or more minors is up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,000 or both jail and the fine.

Important Questions About Underage Drinking Laws

Is furnishing or supplying alcohol to minors a felony? No. Currently, an offense for furnishing a minor is charged as a misdemeanor.

Does furnishing apply to parents providing alcohol to minors? Yes. If the under 21 guests are not family, then you could face criminal charges and punishment if you are found guilty.

Can this type of charge be defeated in court? Yes. There are different defense strategies that may apply, depending upon your unique circumstances. Defenses include:

  • You did not know the ages of the participants
  • You did not know there was alcohol on your premises
  • You did not intentionally provide alcohol to any minor who was not your child
  • You did not know minors were in possession of alcohol and/or
  • You did not know alcohol was being consumed at your residence.

The burden of proof is on the DA to prove the elements of intent or knowledge. If they fall short of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew you were supplying alcohol to minors, then you will prevail.

If you need help defending a social host charge for supplying alcohol to minors, please call or contact me today.

Related Articles:  (MIP law, OUI under 21) (OUI with a Minor)

Attorney Gregory Oberhauser

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Gregory Oberhauser is the ONLY attorney in Massachusetts to be distinguished as an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist by the American Chemical Society!

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