In Massachusetts, the social host law is found in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 138 section 34 and outlines the legal consequences for hosting a gathering involving underage drinkers.
Most people understand that it is illegal to purchase alcohol and give it to someone under 21. The only exception to this is that you may give your child alcohol within your own home. You may not give anyone else’s children alcohol in any location, including your home. To take this one step further, Chapter 138 section 34 defines “Furnishing Alcohol” as “knowingly or intentionally giving to, providing to, or allowing to possess alcoholic beverages on property owned or controlled by the person charged.” This means that if you allow a person who is under 21 into your home with their own alcohol, you can be charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor, even though you didn't give them the alcohol. The act of allowing them to have it on your property is enough for criminal charges.
This law also does not differentiate for age. Should you leave for the weekend and your child who is under 21 decides to have a party at your house with alcohol, regardless of whether they purchased the alcohol or not, if they are allowing underage drinking to take place in the house they have control over, they can be charged criminally with furnishing alcohol to minors even though they themselves are under 21.
The criminal penalty for this charge is a fine up to $2000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both. In addition to criminal charges, a social host opens themselves up to civil liability should anyone leave their property and cause damage to themselves or anyone else. Lawsuits against homeowners have resulted in judgments in the millions of dollars.
If you are planning on going away from your home and are concerned that your son or daughter may host a party with underage drinking you can notify the Westfield Police Department and give limited permission to check your house if they have reason to believe underage drinking is actually taking place. This can be done by accessing a form on the Westfield Police Department web site under the forms tab, or you can click here. This form does not give the police permission to show up at your house and take a walk through simply because they feel like it. It gives officers the ability to enter your home and do a visual search upon a reasonable suspicion that there is underage drinking taking place. This suspicion may stem from a combination of several factors, including but not limited to: complaints by neighbors, the observation of an excessive number of vehicles parked at the house, heavy foot traffic going to or coming from the residence, or actually seeing someone at the house with alcohol who appears to be under 21.
Take a moment to review the flyer below from the Essex County District Attorney’s Office which outlines the Massachusetts Social Host Law and answers some more common questions. If you have any other questions about the social host law or granting the police access to your property under these limited circumstances please contact the Westfield Police Department.