Mercer Island Parent Questions Legality of Ticket for Son's Underage Drinking

Last week Mercer Island police broke up a classic teenage house party. Parents out of town, a kid invites a few friends over, the party gets out of hand, cops come break up the party, you know the drill. Except this time police fined the kid's father $250.

The new "social host" ordinance went into effect on Mercer Island in January and Greg James, the father, is the first person to be cited under the new rules which fine parents for their kid's underage drinking. James told the Times "I have a problem with the idea that you can fine someone for someone else's actions. The more I think about it, the more I think it's kind of a dumb law."

The father said he was going to pay the $250 ticket, but then a lawyer said he could question the constitutionality of the ticket so now he is reconsidering.

There are two different things which could be challenged here. One is ticketing a person for a crime committed by someone else. Do you see parents getting tickets when teenagers get in car accidents or kill people? The other is Mercer Island's law against underage drinking at home. Laws on this differ from state-to-state, but you might be surprised to learn that in most states, including Washington, kids can legally drink in the privacy of their own home as long as they have their parents' permission. According to RCW 66.44.270, laws against underage drinking:

do not apply to liquor given or permitted to be given to a person under the age of twenty-one years by a parent or guardian and consumed in the presence of the parent or guardian.

Teenage drinking is legal in Washington except, it seems, for Mercer Island.

In this instance, the question of legality is irrelevant since the kid was drinking (and enabling other minors to drink) without his parents' permission, so this probably won't turn into a crusade for kids drinking legally. If anything, kids may end up getting legal punishments for underage drinking instead of their parents. Whether you see that as justified or not may soon be answered in the courts.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow