Sadly, alcohol abuse and sexual misbehavior begins among
underage drinkers long before college years. In just a single week
in April 2011, Plainville police arrested 52 underage drinkers
(many of whom were minors) at a dress up theme party entitled
"Business Hoes and CEO's," and Cohasset police arrested 10 minors
who had broken into an empty home and used it as a party
The problem is not just with minors; it rests with parents who
coddle them, provide venues for illegal behavior, and dismiss law
enforcement as misguided.
Prom and graduation season is soon upon us and, inexorably, with
it comes an uptick in arrests, injuries and deaths caused by
So what if underage persons want to ruin their lives? Let them
have at it. And, if individuals with control over their
environments (campuses, dormitories and homes), choose to allow
underage drinking parties, why should we care?
But, you see, it isn't just them. It is about us as well.
We walk the streets as they drive drunk or are impaired by drugs.
Neil Bornstein and Trista Zink were perfectly innocent teenage kids
walking hand-in-hand across the street from Newburyport High School
when Billy White smashed into them, killing Trista and leaving Neil
severely brain injured.
We drive cars on the same roads. Ellen Englehart was on duty as a
state trooper when Billy Senne, driving drunk from a house party in
Wayland, crashed into her cruiser. She "lives" in a permanent
We are parents who allow our kids to go to friends' houses or to
"sleep-overs" in blissful ignorance of what the hosts permit.
Alexis Garcia shared a bottle of vodka that her friend's father
gave his daughter as a birthday present. She drowned in a
The rule of law is more than a catchphrase. It is the cornerstone
of a safe and secure society that affords its citizens reasonably
predictable dealings with the government, institutions, businesses
and each other. The rule of law shapes and defines our culture,
effectively establishing the dividing line between right and wrong,
acceptable and unacceptable, permitted and forbidden. The rule of
law is often expressed in criminal statutes with explicit ranges of
penalties that include incarceration and monetary fines. Criminal
prosecutions, however, are variable, depending on timely report of
the crime, police willingness to arrest the accused, and
discretionary decisions by the district attorney.
Under G.L. c. 138, §. 34 (the criminal social host statute) a
person is deemed to have furnished alcohol to underage persons if
he or she knowingly allows them to possess alcohol on premises
under their control. Criminal liability, therefore, centers not on
the control of the alcohol, but instead on control of the venue
where the misbehavior takes place.
Civil law must keep pace with the criminal law. It makes no sense
whatsoever that a violator of the criminal social host statute
could be jailed for his conduct but nonetheless bear no civil
liability for damages proximately caused by that exact same
behavior if the social host did not physically furnish the
The results that right thinking adults should demand - diminished
underage drinking; avoidance of severe injuries, preventable deaths
and sexual assaults, and maintenance of healthy lifestyles and
homes - mandate that tort liability play an important role. Civil
liability for injuries and damages proximately caused by any person
(including colleges and universities) who knowingly allows underage
persons to possess alcohol on premises controlled by him or her is
essential. Persons violating the law should neither avoid liability
nor escape the full brunt of the damages they substantially cause
by blaming the underage drinker whose injuries or death was
facilitated by their misconduct.
Richard P. Campbell is the founder and chairman of
Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy PC. He is the
president-elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association.