FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – As the school year comes to an end, a lot of people are having prom and graduation parties. It was a graduation party on May 25 last year that now has an Allen County man facing a felony charge under Indiana’s social host law.
“We still have parents and other adults who believe it’s okay to provide alcohol to their own kids and other minors,” Lisa Hutcheson, the director of the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking, said. “Alcohol is a drug. It can be damaging. It can be deadly. We as adults should not be involved in the process of providing that substance to a young person.”
“If you’re an adult and you’re allowing kids onto your property and in your house drinking, you’re violating Indiana law.” – Pete Miller, Fmr. State Sen. District 24
While it was illegal for an adult to buy or give alcohol to someone under the age of 21, the law didn’t cover if an adult simply allowed drinking to happen.
“This is for the parents who irresponsibly know about the underage drinking and turn a blind eye,” Lael Hill, Lead Victim Services Specialist for MADD Indiana, said.
Republican Pete Miller was a new state senator for District 24 in 2012. The DARE director from Brownsburg High School brought the loophole in the law to his attention.
“In cases where a party had taken place on someone’s property, we couldn’t prove the adult had brought the alcohol, but we could prove they had provided the house and hotel room. There was no way for prosecutors to hold people accountable and this law closed that gap,” Miller said.
While the law went into effect in July 2014, many people still aren’t aware of it.
“It’s illegal to drink underage. It’s illegal for them to drink on your property. If you knowingly host a party where people are drinking underage, you’re going to be held liable in criminal court and possibly civil court too,” Hill said.
Miller and Hill believe a case right now in Allen County is the first for the social host law to be applied. Rex Moore faces a felony charge of furnishing alcohol to minors after a graduation party on his Woodburn property last May. The court documents say 50 to 80 minors were there over the course of the night drinking alcohol. A 20-year-old man was killed when the Jeep he was riding in doing doughnuts in the field rolled over. The driver, who was also not 21, pleaded guilty to causing death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
“You are playing Russian roulette. Eventually something bad will happen from that behavior that you are saying is okay to do ” – Pete Miller, Fmr. State Sen. District 24
“We really need to prevent tragedies like this from happening again, so hopefully parents and other adults will realize it’s not okay to provide alcohol to minors for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is it’s illegal,” Hutcheson said.
The law states that any adult who knowingly rents or provides property to enable underage drinking will be held liable. It’s a Class B misdemeanor charge for a first offense, a Class A misdemeanor if the person has a prior conviction and a Level 6 felony if there was serious injury or death involved.
Some parents and adults say they would rather the teenagers drink at home where they know where they are and take their car keys to keep them from driving drunk.
“It doesn’t matter if you take their keys and they’re at your home. They can still have a tragic, very tragic incident on your property,” Hill said.
Hill said only 32 percent of underage drinking deaths are caused by drinking and driving.
Hutcheson added falling down stairs and injuring themselves in “stupid” drinking games.
“You are playing Russian roulette. Eventually something bad will happen from that behavior that you are saying is okay to do,” Miller said.
Excessive underage drinking causes more than 4,300 deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People ages 12 to 20 also account for eleven percent of the alcohol consumed in the United States.
Underage drinking can also cause irreversible brain damage.
“Just like you wouldn’t give a toddler alcohol in a sippy cup, you shouldn’t give alcohol to a 15-year-old because it’s essentially the same thing,” Hill said. “Brain development spikes around your toddler years and it spikes again around adolescence- 15, 16, 17. Arrested development can happen, meaning their development can stop at the age of 17.”
Hutcheson said it doesn’t matter if people are technically considered to be adults at age 18, their brain still isn’t fully developed.
“Brain research is brain research,” she said. “Brains are not fully developed until we’re 25, so any alcohol consumption that we have before then will impact our brain. There has been research done of heavy drinkers, 15-year-olds, and you will see on MRI brain scans of their brains that those drinkers actually have smaller brains.”
Hutcheson added there are precautions parents should take to help keep kids from drinking underage.
“Make sure you talk with your child frequently about it. Don’t just have one big ‘talk.’ Make sure if you do have alcohol in your home, it’s locked up and that you monitor it. A lot of kids will garage surf and take a six pack from here and a six pack from this garage and a lot of parents won’t miss it because it’s so full they don’t know how much is in there,” she said. “Parents need to be parents. You can be their friend when they’re out of your house and they’re an adult. Now is not the time to be their friend. I don’t think any parent wants to be the cause of their child’s injury or accident from providing alcohol to them or any other child for that matter. It’s against the law and it’s not a good idea.”