As a result of the increase in tragedies involving alcohol throughout the State, Rhode Island has joined numerous neighboring states in adopting the Social Host Laws. Prior to the adoption of these laws, adults were only charged if they purchased or furnished alcohol to a minor. Now, adults face charges if they sell, furnish or give alcohol to a minor, as well as knowingly permitting minors to consume alcohol within their residence or surrounding property and failing to take reasonable steps to stop such underage drinking. It should be noted that an adult will not be held liable in situations where minors conceal their drinking, such as drinking in a garage or shed, provided there is no reasonable indication that underage drinking is occurring.
A violation of these laws provides for both criminal and civil liability. With respect to criminal liability, an individual who furnishes or procures and/or is aware of the consumption of alcohol by underage person(s) in his or her residence or on his or her property will find themselves criminally liable. As to civil liability, a homeowner who provides alcohol to an underage person(s) or has actual knowledge of an underage person(s) consuming alcohol on his or her property is duty-bound to exercise reasonable care to protect an injured guest. This rule is recognized in limited circumstances where a special relationship is created because the host unlawfully provided alcohol to an underage person(s) or/and allowed an underage person(s) to consume alcohol on their property.
The penalties for violating these laws vary depending upon the number of prior offenses. A first conviction is considered a misdemeanor and carries a fine of not less than Three Hundred Fifty ($350.00) Dollars nor more than One Thousand ($1,000.00) Dollars and/or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six (6) months in, or both, as determined by the sentencing judge. A second offense imposes a mandatory fine of not less than Seven Hundred Fifty ($750.00) Dollars nor more than One Thousand ($1,000.00) Dollars and/or imprisonment for a period not exceeding One (1) year, or both. A third or subsequent offense is a felony. The host faces a mandatory fine of not less than One Thousand ($1,000.00) Dollars nor more than Two Thousand Five Hundred ($2,500.00) Dollars and/or imprisonment not exceeding three (3) years.
A conviction or plea of nolo contendere to violating the Rhode Island Social Host Laws carries with it mandatory fines and/or imprisonment and the stigma of having a criminal record. If you or a family member is facing charges of violating the Rhode Island Social Host Laws, I encourage you to call my office and schedule a free confidential consultation with me.