Honey, I Served The Kids, New Alcohol Laws In Blue Earth County, Minnesota
Blue Earth County, Minnesota has just passed a social host ordinance very similar to one already in place in Mankato. The county’s new ordinance makes it illegal to host or allow a gathering of three or more people where the host knows or reasonably should know that minors will consume alcohol. The host must take reasonable steps to prevent that consumption, and the host does not have to be present to be criminally responsible. This means it may be possible to be charged criminally even if the property owner is not home!
Blue Earth County is one of many localities in Minnesota and around the country, to enact such an ordinance in recent years. These acts are thought to deter underage drinking and remedy the difficulties in trying to hold someone responsible for furnishing alcohol to minors, since it can often be difficult for police to identify who actually provided the alcohol at a party.
State Social Host Laws
Minnesota law already prohibits furnishing alcohol to minors. It makes the crime a misdemeanor, which means up to 90 days in jail if convicted. It also provides for civil liability of the host for injuries caused by minors to whom the host has provided alcohol. However, the difference between the state laws and the county ordinance is that the ordinance focuses on the setting in which the underage drinking takes place, not the person who serves the alcohol.
Who is a host?
In order to be held liable under the new ordinance, a person would have to be found to be a host. This could be a wide-ranging term and could include those who participated in the planning and funding of the event. Defenses available to someone charged with violating the ordinance could include the argument that the person was not sufficiently involved with the event to be considered a host.
How much knowledge does the host have to have to be guilty?
The ordinance specifically provides that a host is guilty if he “knows or reasonably should know” that there will be underage consumption of alcohol at the party. This means that the host does not have to actually know about the consumption; instead, a court could find that a host should have known about the consumption based on the host’s relationship to the minors, the circumstances of the gathering, or the host’s role in planning the gathering. This will cause many Mankato criminal defense attorney’s to come up creative arguments to argue how much knowledge the host had.
What are “reasonable steps”?
The ordinance provides that the host must take reasonable steps to prevent underage alcohol consumption at the party. But what exactly are these? Because the ordinance has just been passed, this is something that will be determined by the courts as prosecutions for violations of the ordinance arise. For example, is a host required to check all the attendees’ identification?
Penalties for violating the ordinance
Violation of the ordinance could be charged as a misdemeanor, or the host could receive a citation. A misdemeanor in Minnesota is punishable by 90 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine and no, you don’t get to pick which one!
Kohlmeyer Hagen, Law Office Chtd.
Mankato, Minnesota 56001