Can I get in trouble if my child’s friends drink a few beers in my house? This is a common question I am often asked by parents. The fact is that it is illegal in New Jersey for an adult to allow minors to drink in their home, with some exceptions.
New Jersey Statute N.J.S.A. 2C:33-17(a) makes it a disorderly persons offense, punishable by up to six month in jail and a $1,000 fine to anyone who purposely or knowingly offers or serves or make available an alcoholic beverage to persons under the legal age for consuming alcoholic beverages or entices or encourages that person to drink an alcoholic beverage.
There have been circumstances where a parent has been charged with this offense, when his child was in the basement with a few friends and the parent was upstairs sleeping. The language in the statute “make available an alcoholic beverage” can mean the parent is on the hook even if he or she turns a blind eye and the kids raid the liquor cabinet.
The statute however creates several exceptions. It allows the parent or guardian of an underage individual to provide their own underage child alcohol inside their home. It also permits the service of alcohol to an underage person in their home if it involves a religious observance or ceremony. Finally, this NJ statute does not apply to any person in his home who offers alcohol to an underage person in the presence of and with the permission of the parent or guardian of the underage person.
In addition to the above statute, many towns in NJ have enacted local ordinances making it unlawful for a minor to drink on private property. Therefore, it is important to be aware of your town’s ordinances before your child hosts a party.
Finally, New Jersey’s Social Host liability laws can extend to the homeowner who serves alcohol or allows another person to bring alcohol to their home and an intoxicated person leaving the home causes injury to a third person. The homeowner can be sued for damages by that injured person for medical expenses, property damage, lost wages and pain and suffering.