August 19, 2004
UNDER-AGE DRINKING PARTIES
By: Christopher Reinhart, Senior Attorney
You asked about laws regarding under-age drinking at parties and who can be charged criminally.
A minor (someone under age 21) can be fined from $200 to $500 for (1) possessing liquor in a public place, (2) buying liquor, (3) attempting to buy liquor, or (4) making a false statement to buy liquor. Further, the motor vehicles commissioner must suspend for up to 150 days the driver's license of a minor convicted of violating these laws. But this statute does not apply to possession of alcohol on private property.
A person may be criminally liable for providing alcohol to a minor. A person may be fined up to $1,500, imprisoned up to 18 months, or both, for giving alcohol to someone under 21 years of age. The prohibition does not apply to deliveries made to the minor by his parent, guardian, or spouse who is at least 21 years old, if the parent, guardian, or spouse accompanies the minor while he possesses the alcohol.
A person may also be charged with the crime of risk of injury to a minor for serving alcohol to a child under age 16 under certain circumstances. This offense is a class C felony, which carries a prison term of up to 10 years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Legislation considered but not adopted by the General Assembly in recent years would have prohibited minors from possessing liquor anywhere. These bills also would have (1) prohibited someone over age 21 who possesses or controls a dwelling unit or private property from knowingly permitting a minor to illegally possess alcohol in the unit or on the property and (2) made it illegal for such a person to fail to make reasonable efforts to stop the possession of alcohol in the unit or on the property by a minor he knows possesses alcohol illegally.
Some towns, such as Glastonbury, Rocky Hill, and Simsbury, have adopted ordinances that prohibit someone under age 21 from possessing open or closed containers of alcohol on private property. All three ordinances also prohibit hosting an event at which alcohol will be served to someone under 21. These ordinances have exceptions for minors accompanied by a parent, guardian, or spouse over age 21. Violators are subject to a $90 fine in Rocky Hill and Simsbury and a $100 fine in Glastonbury.
LIQUOR POSSESSION BY A MINOR
Possession (CGS § 30-89(b))
A minor who possesses liquor on any street or in any other public place, or a place open to the public, including a club, is subject to a fine of $200 to $500.
The law exempts a minor who (1) is an employee of a premises with a liquor permit acting in the course of his employment; (2) possesses liquor on the orders of his doctor; or (3) possesses liquor while in the company of his parent, guardian, or spouse who is at least 21 years old.
Additional Penalty For Liquor Purchasing Or Possession (CGS § 14-111e)
The law requires the motor vehicles commissioner to suspend, for up to 150 days, the driver's license, motorcycle license, or nonresident operating privilege of anyone under 21 years old who has been convicted of violating the laws prohibiting minors from (1) misusing their license to obtain liquor (CGS § 30-88a) or (2) purchasing or possessing liquor (CGS § 30-89). The law also makes someone under 21 years old who has been convicted of these crimes and who does not have a license ineligible to receive one for 150 days after meeting licensing requirements.
PROVIDING ALCOHOL TO A MINOR
Criminal Liability (CGS § 30-86)
CGS § 30-86 prohibits liquor permittees from selling or delivering alcohol to minors, intoxicated people, and habitual drunkards. It also specifies that “[a]ny person who sells, ships, delivers or gives any such liquors to such minor, by any means, including, but not limited to, the Internet or any other on-line computer network, except on the order of a practicing physician, shall be fined not more than one thousand five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than eighteen months, or both.” The provision establishes several exceptions, including one for deliveries made to a minor by his parent, guardian, or spouse who is at least 21 years old, if the minor possesses the alcohol while accompanied by the parent, guardian, or spouse.
In State v. Hughes, the court concluded that the prohibition applied to non-commercial transactions within a private residential setting (3 Conn. Cir. 181, cert. denied, 152 Conn. 745 (1965)). In Ely v. Murphy, the Connecticut Supreme Court noted that with limited exceptions the provision makes a social host criminally liable for delivering alcohol to a minor (207 Conn. 88, 93 (1988)).
Risk of Injury to a Minor (CSG § 53-21)
People who give alcohol to children under age 16 may also be guilty of the crime of risk of injury to a minor. Someone commits this crime if he either (1) willfully or unlawfully causes or permits any child under 16 years of age to be placed in a situation in which his life or limb is endangered, his health is likely to be injured, or his morals are likely to be impaired, or (2) does any act likely to impair the child's health or morals. Thus, this law proscribes two general types of behavior likely to injure physically or to impair the morals of a minor under 16 years of age: (1) deliberate indifference to, acquiescence in, or the creation of situations adverse to the minor's moral or physical welfare, and (2) acts directly perpetrated on the person of the minor and injurious to his moral or physical well-being (State v. Dennis, 150 Conn. 245, (1963); State v. James, 211 Conn. 555 (1989)).
Our courts have held that an adult who gives alcohol to a minor may be guilty of either or both of these types of behavior (State v. Ostolaza, 20 Conn. App. 40; State v. Mancinone, 15 Conn. App. 251, cert. denied, 209 Conn. 818, cert denied, 489 US 1017 (1989); State v. March, 39 Conn. App. 267, (1995)).
Someone found guilty of this offense is subject to a fine of up to $10,000, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both.
Several pieces of legislation considered, but not adopted, in recent years would have prohibited minors from possessing liquor anywhere (including HB 5655 in 2004 and HB 6693 in 2003). These bills also would have:
1. prohibited someone over age 21 who possesses or controls a dwelling unit or private property from knowingly permitting a minor to illegally possess alcohol in the unit or on the property and
2. made it illegal for such a person to fail to make reasonable efforts to stop the possession of alcohol in the unit or on the property by a minor he knows possesses alcohol illegally.
Under these bills, someone over age 21 would be punished (1) for a first offense, by a fine of up to $500, up to one year in prison, or both, with the possibility of up to 180 hours of community service and (2) for a second offense, by a fine of up to $1,500, up to 18 months in prison, or both.