It's that time of year again ... windows and doors are open. Outdoor activities will be everywhere. When you are hosting a party, here are some things that can keep your guests safe, your neighbors happy and help you avoid unnecessary difficulties with the law.
First and foremost, alcohol is only for adults 21 years of age and older. The only exception to this rule is when you are a parent, legal guardian or grandparent providing the alcohol for your own children or grandchildren within the confines of the property owned or controlled by you.
Simply put, you may give your own children alcoholic beverages in your own home, but NEVER anyone else's children — ANYWHERE! If you are in an area to which the public has access (i.e., the beach, a park or other recreational area), you may not legally give any minor children/grandchildren (including your own) alcohol. Anyone who provides alcohol to a minor in public is subject to immediate arrest. Violation of the law in this regard (Massachusetts General Law Chap. 138, Sec. 34) could lead to jail time of up to a year, and/or a fine of up to $2,000. Thinking that you will keep kids safer by having a gathering with alcohol at your residence (and presumably under your control) simply does not work. Just say "No."
Misuse of alcohol is typically a contributing factor at parties that may become a nuisance to your neighbors, and possibly require the attention of the police. As a homeowner, it is your responsibility to keep things under control until the festivities have concluded. Going to sleep or leaving the area does not negate your responsibility.
With this in mind, you should know that as the homeowner, you might be held responsible (criminally and civilly) for incidents that occur at your home. One of the most common occurrences is that of a loud party that extends late (after midnight) into the evening. Usually, the police will warn the homeowner to keep the noise down and suggest that the party "wind down." However, another call to the police by disgruntled neighbors could result in the homeowner being charged with disturbing the peace, which could subject the homeowner to arrest. This will usually ruin what was, up to this point, a great party.
Should the police have to visit your home on a regular basis due to disturbances on your property, you could also be charged with "keeper of a disorderly house." This statute covers loud parties and underage drinking. Violation of this statute could get you six months in jail, and/or a fine of $200. Noise complaints alone can result in a violation of the law.
One suggestion concerning controlling your party (and avoiding legal entanglements) is to lay down ground rules before the party has started and stick to them. Make it clear to all guests as to when the party will be over BEFORE the event begins. Also, maintain control of who is allowed to attend the party. More often than not, it is the late, uninvited party guest who will ruin your day. It is also very helpful to advise your neighbors in advance of the party and when it will conclude. Then stick to this time! If a guest shows up already intoxicated, it might be a better idea to see that he/she gets home safely, rather than allowing them into the festivities.
The law is clear on this ... if you are the property owner/renter, you will be the person held accountable for the behavior of your guests while at your party. Your best defense is simply common sense and planning. Think about the neighborhood you live in; be considerate of your neighbors and design your gatherings accordingly. It will save you and your neighbors unnecessary headaches.
As always, should you have questions concerning this or other topics involving your police department, please do not hesitate to contact me at 978-462-4411 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next month, be safe, and be good to each other.
Bill Steeves is a Newburyport police officer. His columns appear monthly in The Daily News.