Possessing, Buying, and Selling Alcohol
Massachusetts has a broad set of laws to prevent underage drinking, a popular activity among high school and college students across the country.
In Massachusetts, it is illegal for any person under 21 to possess alcohol, unless the person is with a parent or legal guardian. Thus, a 19-year-old would not violate this law if he were having a glass of wine or beer with his family in their home, but drinking at a bar or party away from his parents would violate the law. An exemption permits 18- to 21-year-olds to carry alcoholic beverages if it is part of their employment.
Violation of the law carries a $50 fine for the first offense and a 90-day suspension of the offender’s driver’s license. In addition to this transportation inconvenience, the conviction could hurt someone’s chances for employment for years.
Of course, individuals under 21 may not buy or attempt to buy alcoholic beverages. The law also forbids altering IDs to buy alcohol or claiming to be 21 or older when someone is actually underage. Further, an underage person may not ask a 21-year-old to buy alcohol. A violation of any of these requirements can result in a $300 fine and a180-day driver’s license suspension.
Similarly, no one may make, possess, or sell false IDs, or use another’s ID, to buy alcoholic beverages.
Massachusetts law also specifically prohibits anyone from selling or providing alcoholic beverages to anyone under 21, regardless of whether the buyer intends to give the alcohol to someone over 21. To comply with this law, owners of restaurants, bars, and private residences must be especially wary of who is drinking on their property. Underage students who throw a party and provide alcohol to other minors may also be charged with violating the law. Punishment for violating this law is strict – the offender can be fined up to $2,000 or face up to one year in prison.
Social Host Liability
Allowing minors to drink on your premises could have significant financial consequences as well. Under a theory called social host liability, if someone provides alcohol to another person to the extent that the person becomes drunk, and then the intoxicated person injures someone, the injured person can sue the individual who provided the alcohol in addition to the person who injured him.
For example, if someone hosts a party, and allows a guest to become clearly drunk, and then the drunken person severely injures someone in a car wreck, the injured person can sue that host. Usually in these cases, the cause of injury is drunk driving. It doesn’t matter whether the guest is under 21 or not – if he or she injures someone as a result of being provided too much alcohol, the host might have to pay a large sum in a lawsuit.
And minors — not only adults — may be sued under this law. To avoid these potentially harsh consequences, it is crucial to know who your guests are and monitor their drinking to some extent.
Driving while Intoxicated
Minors are also held to a stricter standard when they are driving. If a minor is driving a car with only a 0.02 blood alcohol content, his or her driver’s license can be suspended. By contrast, people who are 21 and older can drive with a blood alcohol content below 0.08 before they face any legal consequences. Regardless of a driver’s age, if he is arrested for driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater, he faces up to two years in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.