Mr. and Mrs. Welltodo have a large house on the lake. The house has a large finished basement with a pool table, state of the art entertainment system, and enough room for 20-30 people to have a party. They also have a beer fridge and a completely stocked bar downstairs. They have a 17 year old son (Sonny) who is an only child. Sonny is popular in school. His mom has always wanted him to have friends, and is excited he is popular. He does have a reputation of a partier.
One Friday, Sonny tells them that he is going to invite a “few” friends over for a party down in the basement. They say it’s okay because they don’t want to alienate Sonny and they want Sonny to like them. And they even tell Sonny that they will stay upstairs and will not disturb the party. They “will stay out of the way.” They have little doubt that there will be underage drinking involved. But they say nothing.
They do not secure the beer and the alcohol in the basement. The party starts at 8:00. 17 and 18 year olds are all driving up in their cars. By 9:00 the music is blasting, kids are yelling and laughing. Mr. and Mrs. Welltodo never go downstairs to check. They ignore what sounds like drunk teens and sit quietly in their living room watching TV no matter how out of control it sounds.
At about 1:00, the Welltodos are still up watching TV. The party seems to be breaking up. They begin to hear some cars leaving. Mrs. Welltodo asks her husband if he thinks they are all alright to drive. He tells her it’s none of their business. They have done nothing wrong and if one or more of them get DUIs, it’s their own fault. By 2:00, the Welltodos hear only some light talking downstairs. They hear some sirens off in the distance. But that isn’t real unusual and they think nothing of it.
They finally go downstairs. They find the basement in a shambles with many more beer cans, etc. all over the place. They check on Sonny and he is “asleep” in his bedroom. They assume he is passed out. They don’t disturb him. They’ll clean up the mess later.
Around 5:00AM, the doorbell rings. When they answer the door two County detectives are standing there. The investigators ask them if there was a party there. They tell the officers that their son had some friends over for a party.
The officers ask them if Shane Jackson and Maggie O’Reilly were at the party. They didn’t know and asked why. The officers tell them that they were in a bad wreck with another car at about 2:30 that morning. The mother and small child in the other car were in critical condition at the hospital, as was Shane. Maggie died instantly in the crash. Both Shane and Maggie had blood alcohol levels in excess of .20.
They asked if they could come in and look around. They were allowed in and headed to the basement, saw the mess and asked the Welltodos if they knew this was going on the night before. Mr. Welltodo said they heard the party but stayed upstairs to stay out of their way. He immediately told the officers that he did not provide the youth any of the alcohol and did nothing to encourage their son to have the party or allow underage drinking.
The officers asked to speak to Sonny. When they woke him up. Although his speech was slurred, he was able to confirm that Shane and Maggie were at the party. He noticed them leave and saw that they appeared intoxicated. Sonny gave the officers as many names of his friends as he could remember who were at the party. Sonny was charged with underage consumption as were several of his friends.
Can the Welltodos be charged with anything for allowing this alcohol party that resulted in serious injuries and a death?
Under the current (2015) Georgia Statutes:
- A person commits the offense of “Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor” (O.C.G.A. §16-12-1) when they cause or encourage a minor to commit a delinquent act (like drinking alcohol). This statute creates no liability if, for example, a parent/adult simply knows or reasonably should know that their house is going to be used by a group of minors to have a party and drink alcohol. Also, “minor”, is defined in this statute as anyone under the age of 17. If the individuals drinking are between 17 and 21 (as in the hypothetical), there is no criminal liability under this statute.
- The Welltodos left the alcohol in the basement and did nothing to secure it. They had a good idea that there was underage drinking going on in the basement. They didn’t directly cause or openly encourage the underage drinking. Furthermore, the underage drinking was done by individuals over the age of 17.
A person commits the offense of “Furnishing Alcoholic Beverages to a Minor” (O.C.G.A. §3-3-23) when they furnish, cause to be furnished or permit any person in their employ to furnish alcohol to a minor. So long as the parent/adult doesn’t directly furnish or cause to be furnished any alcohol to the minors, they have no liability for minors drinking in their home even if they know it’s happening.
- Although the Welltodos had beer and liquor in the basement, they didn’t give their son or anyone else at the party permission to drink any of it.
- A person commits the offense of “Maintaining a Disorderly House” (O.C.G.A. §16-11-44) when the person maintains a house or establishment that is regularly used for drinking and gambling. However the statute does not apply if there is only an occasional alcohol party at the house.
- A person commits the offense of “Reckless Conduct” (O.C.G.A. 16-5-60a) when the person causes bodily harm to or endangers the bodily safety of another person by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his act or omission will cause harm or endanger the safety of the other person. This statute requires the person directly cause bodily harm to another or endanger the bodily safety of another.
- Simply allowing underage drinking at their house, the Welltodos did not directly cause the bodily injury or endanger the bodily safety of the individuals injured and killed.
- Therefore, under the current laws, the Welltodos had no responsibility to prevent Sonny’s friends from drinking alcohol in their home and had no responsibility to call law enforcement, prevent or stop the underage drinking or try to prevent intoxicated minors from driving off drunk.
- Under the current laws, the Welltodos have no criminal or civil liability for the injuries and death that their inaction caused.