Rhode Island Toughens Social Host Liability and Underage Drinking Laws

July 23, 2008

Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri has signed legislation approved by the General Assembly to strengthen the so-called “social host” law and address a number of other issues regarding underage drinking and driving.

The major change in the law resulted from an incident last July, when Barrington police responded to a loud party in the backyard of a home in the early morning hours. What they found were a number of youths – most, if not all, of them under 18 – as well as a small keg of beer, bottles of other beer and other evidence of alcohol.

Under the so-called “social host” law that was enacted in 2006, adults who allow underage drinking parties to be held in their homes can face criminal charges. That law added language to existing statute that enhanced the ability of law enforcement to charge adults who provide alcohol to minors.

However, the Barrington incident uncovered a flaw in the new law. Police said that while they proceeded with action against the youths they encountered, they held off from charging the owner of the home because the underage drinking occurred not inside the home, but rather in the yard. Police were advised by the office of the Attorney General that, as a result, charges against the adult homeowners could not be sustained.

The legislation approved by the General Assembly – sponsored by Rep. Jan P. Malik (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren) and Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) — addresses that issue by extending the reach of the law to make adults liable for underage drinking anywhere on their property, not just within the confines of a house.

The new law also increases the penalties associated with procuring alcohol for minors. A first offense will still carry a fine of between $350 and $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months. For a second offense, the fine will remain between $750 and $1,000 but imprisonment would be increased from six months to one year. For a third or subsequent offense – which would be considered a felony – punishment will be a fine of between $1,200 and $2,500 and imprisonment of up to three years, up from the current one year.

Also, under the new law, individuals under the age of 21 who possess and use fake identification cards to attempt to purchase liquor can be fined between $100 and $500, be assigned 30 hours of community service and have their license suspended for 30 days. A second offense carries a fine of between $500 and $750, 40 hours of community service and loss of license for 90 days. A third or subsequent offense carries a fine of between $750 and $1,000, 50 hours of community service and loss of license for one year.

Individuals who manufacture and provide fake IDs to underage individuals will face a fine of $500 per fake ID for a first offense, a fine of $1,000 per incident for a second offense and a fine of $2,000 for a third or subsequent offense.

The changes in the law as a result of this year’s legislation (2008 – H7222B) and (2008 – S2531A) also affect simple possession of alcohol by a minor and transporting of alcohol by a minor.

Beginning now, individuals under 21 in possession of alcohol face a fine of $150 to $750 for a first offense, $300 to $750 for a second offense and $450 to $950 for a third offense. In addition, the penalty for possession by a minor will include 30 hours of community service and a license suspension for a minimum of 60 days. Anyone picked up on a second offense may also be required to undergo a substance abuse treatment program.

Drivers under 21 will also face new penalties for transporting alcohol in a vehicle. A first offense will be a $250 fine and 30-day license suspension; a second offense will be a $500 fine and 90-day license suspension and a third offense will be a $950 fine and one-year license suspension. Excluded will be young drivers who must transport alcoholic beverages as part of their employment (such as delivery truck drivers).

Source: Rhode Island Legislative Press & Information Bureau

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