Houman Fakhimi

Parents who Condone Teen Drinking Face Criminal Sanctions

Laguna Beach is poised to become the fourth city in Orange County where a parent who hosts a gathering in which minors are consuming alcohol or drugs may be penalized.

This may be especially important as we approach the holidays, when teens have an extended time off from classes and other responsibilities, and therefore have more of an opportunity to consume alcohol.

Laguna Beach Criminal Defense Attorney Houman Fakhimi understands the law, called the social host ordinance, which was recently sent back to administrators with the city for some minor revisions, carries some steep penalties for even first-time offenders.

Those punishments would include a mandated alcohol awareness class, along with a $1,000 fine for every subsequent misdemeanor offense.

Other cities in the county with similar measures include Irvine, Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills. Approximately 100 or so cities throughout the state have similar measures, according to the Laguna Beach police chief.

However, the measure has continued to be controversial for a number of reasons.

For starters, it doesn't really address the issue of teen drinking and drug use. It will occur regardless of whether parents allow it in the home. Some have argued that it's safer to allow it under the supervision of a responsible adult.

Additionally, there are concerns about whether 4th Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable searches, may be trampled. And if people are afraid that their neighbor or friend's parent might get in serious trouble if help is called to respond to an emergency, potential callers may be a lot less likely to dial 911.

Plus, as of last year, the state already began holding parents accountable in civil actions when their furnishing alcohol to a minor results in serious injury or death. This was the Teen Alcohol Safety Act of 2010. California Civil Code Section 1714 had previously stated that social hosts who provide alcoholic beverages to another person can't legally be held liable for any subsequent damages or injury suffered by that person or inflicted by that person upon someone else. The code was amended as of Jan. 1, 2011 to hold that an adult can be held civilly liable when:

  1. He or she is a parent, guardian or other adult;
  2. He or she knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person who is under the age of 21;
  3. This act of furnishing alcoholic beverages was later found to be the proximate cause of injuries, death or property damage to the person who was served alcohol or to someone else.

So this means if you provide beer to your son's best friend and that teenager then gets into a car, wrecks it and kills his teenage girlfriend, you can be sued by the girlfriend's parents for civil damages. Such Dram Shop litigation may also take place against restaurants and bars -- this formalizes such liability for private party hosts.

In a recent city council meeting attended by more than three dozen residents, concerned citizens argued that the measure is both anti-family and anti-community. At the end of the day, parents who serve alcohol to their children are likely going to evade detection, opponents argued, while parents who don't even realize alcohol is being consumed at their home may be punished.

The ordinance in Laguna Beach is set for a final vote before the end of the month.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are charged with a crime in Orange County.