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Prosecutor says party throwers legally responsible for incidents

February 16, 2011

Following the Jan. 30 car crash that killed three teenagers from Holt, Mich., and the felony charges against the three men who hosted the party the teens attended that night, many students and community members have questioned the legal responsibilities of someone hosting a party.

Some party throwers attempt to alleviate their responsibility by hanging signs on their walls reading “No one under 21 can drink,” or similar phrases.

But Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said these postings hold no legal precedent whatsoever.

No posted sign or other measure can absolve a homeowner or party thrower of their responsibility for the individuals they allow into their home to consume alcohol, Dunnings said.

“(If) you are serving people alcohol, it is your responsibility to know how old (guests) are and to make sure they don’t leave if they could be putting others at risk,” he said.

The same principle is in play with the MSU student Charles King III and his roommates, Lansing Community College student Michael Freund and Jordan Henika. The three men are charged with allegedly allowing the teenagers into their home and providing them alcohol.

East Lansing police Capt. Kim Johnson said when officers go into a party these signs have no effect on the actions they take.

If an officer enters a party and has reason to believe a person is under the age of 21 and has been drinking the officer can ask for identification, Johnson said. If the person is under 21 and there is evidence showing they received alcohol from individuals throwing the party, the party throwers can be issued a citation, he said.

“(Officers will) ask the people where they’ve been drinking and where they got the alcohol from,” Johnson said. “Some (people) are cooperative and some are not. (But) just because you don’t answer doesn’t mean you are free to go.”

Johnson said for the most part, when officers go up to a party it is for a specific reason — either someone has called them or something has been done to draw attention. The police do not approach parties randomly looking for minors drinking.

Some students, such as Lyman Briggs junior David Crawford, don’t believe the obligations should be so strict.

He said someone hosting a party should make sure there are no high school students or individuals younger than 18 years old attending the party.

“(Party throwers) should be responsible for their guests from a sort of practical standpoint,” Crawford said. “They should make sure no one leaves drunk (and) no one drives drunk, but they shouldn’t necessarily be responsible for them as far as the courts and laws are concerned.”

State statute says individuals hosting a party have the obligation to monitor the behavior not only of minors at their party but rather of all who are in attendance, Dunnings said.

Once a homeowner or party thrower has provided alcohol to someone — regardless of age — hosts are responsible for all the actions that occur because of the guest’s intoxication, Dunnings said.

“If you have a party, (and) someone who is 22 is intoxicated at that party then gets in his car, leaves and then gets into an accident injuring or killing someone, then you can be found liable,” he said.

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