SocialHostLiability.org
Hosted by Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy

It's All About You

It's All About You is a program developed by the law firm of Campbell Campbell Edwards & Conroy to educate young adults about the Social Host Law and to illustrate the legal consequences of allowing those under the age of 21 to possess alcohol.

During the presentation, Chris Callanan and other attorneys on our Social Host Team tell the stories of the victims of underage drinking as well as of the hosts who, like Brendan Kneram, have been prosecuted under the Social Host Law. They show what happens when good kids make bad decisions and well-meaning hosts painfully discover that the parties that they thought were harmless fun turn into catastrophes. They discuss the liability of social hosts when civil actions with millions of dollars at stake rapidly follow criminal prosecutions.

Also in the presentation, the attorneys talk about the less obvious consequences of a violation of the Social Host Law—the effect on eligibility for interscholastic athletics and on applications for college, graduate and professional school, the military, jobs, and even for loans and mortgages. In short, the program is all about you and the legal effect on you of violations of the Social Host Law.


Background

In January 2003, while on winter break from Syracuse University, Brendan Kneram, age 19, purchased beer at a convenience store and engaged in drinking games with three 19 year old friends at his home in Newburyport, Massachusetts, while his parents were out for the evening. When Mrs. Kneram called to say that she would soon be home, the friends prepared to assemble elsewhere. Refusing to heed Brendan's warning that he was too drunk to drive, Billy White drove off alone. Soon after, Billy struck two pedestrians, killing 16 year old Trista Zinck and seriously injuring 17 year old Neil Bornstein. Kneram pled guilty to one count of violating the Social Host Law, expecting leniency in sentencing. However, Judge Peter Doyle imposed the maximum sentence. Shocked at the prospect of jail, Brendan hired a new attorney and sought post-conviction relief, arguing that his guilty plea was invalid because, as a minor, the Social Host Law did not apply to him. Judge Doyle denied the motion, and Kneram appealed. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts stated:

In this tragic case, we hold that "whoever," as used in G.L.c. 138 § 34 (furnishing alcohol to a person under twenty-one), means precisely that. As such, the defendant, a young college student with no criminal record, will serve a jail sentence, the sadness of which is overshadowed by the death of a sixteen year old child struck by another to whom the defendant furnished alcohol.

A death or serious accident resulting from underage drinking may also lead to a civil suit. Violation of a criminal statute such as the Social Host Law is evidence of negligence even if the authorities do not charge the host with a crime.

The amendment of the Massachusetts Social Host Law in 2000—providing that anyone who "allows" a person under 21 years of age to possess alcohol on property owned or controlled by the host has committed a crime punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment—has perhaps affected young adults more than anyone else. High school and college age students are almost certain to find themselves in the presence of underage drinkers at a high school or college party. And if the party is taking place in the student's home, dorm room or off-campus apartment, then the student has violated the Social Host Law. Like Brendan Kneram, many high school and college students are surprised to learn that the social host law applies to them. A 19-year old who allows his 19-year old friend to consume alcohol in his dorm room is just as liable under the law as a 50 year old who allows underage drinking at a high school graduation party.


See video of Richard P. Campbell presenting It's All About You at Endicott College in February of 2006


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