Open House Parties In Florida And Criminal Responsibility: What Happens When The Fun Stops
Nobody hosts a house party intending to cause problems – run-ins with law enforcement may be the last thing on their minds. Yet, criminal charges frequently arise out of parties thrown near any of the Orlando area’s colleges. Some charges go beyond the typical noise complaints most would expect.
When minors attend house parties and consume alcohol or drugs, the person in control of the residence can be held legally responsible – not only for the underage consumption but for any other problems that occur as well. In a worst case scenario, a party host can even face up to a year in jail when an underage partygoer causes a serious injury or death to another.
Florida’s laws on open house parties are contained within Florida Statutes Sec. 856.015. This statute prohibits conduct where a party’s host permits drug or alcohol use by those not permitted to do so. In the case of drugs, this is not usually an age-specific rule. With alcohol, “minors” are defined as anyone not legally permitted to possess alcohol under Florida Statutes Sec. 562.111. In other words, anybody under age 21.
Violators of these Florida house party laws can find themselves facing a second degree misdemeanor, with up to 60 days in jail and $500 in fines, or a first degree misdemeanor with up to one year in jail if a serious injury occurred due to a minor consuming alcohol. Penalties for violating a house party law can also include disciplinary issues with school administrators if the Defendant is a college student.
The definition of an “open house party” under Florida law is fairly open-ended, and excludes only religious observances or activities. Any “social gathering at a residence” could subject the host to criminal responsibility if statutory violations take place at the gathering. Further, the law requires those hosting an event to “take reasonable steps to prevent the possession or consumption” of alcohol by minors. What this means, in practicality, can be open for debate. Unfortunately, the wording of the statute makes it easy for law enforcement to pursue criminal charges against homeowners and tenants.
What the Prosecution Must Prove in an Open House Party Case
To secure a conviction in open house party cases involving minors, prosecutors must prove the following elements:
- Defendant was 18 years of age or older;
- Defendant controlled the residence;
- Defendant allowed an open house party at that residence;
- A minor possessed/consumed alcohol or drugs at that party;
- Defendant knew that a minor possessed/consumed alcohol or drugs at that party;
- Defendant failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the consumption of alcohol/drugs at the party.
In cases involving injury or death, either of the following elements must also be shown:
- In doing all of the above, Defendant caused or contributed to the serious bodily injury or death of the minor; or
- In doing all of the above and as a result of the minor’s alcohol/drug consumption, serious injury or death occurred to another person.
Defending Against Charges in an Open House Party Case
Key defenses available to someone charged with these crimes can include:
- Defendant did not “control” the residence. Control would mean some kind of authority to invite or expel guests, and to lock doors and otherwise dictate what happens in the residence. If a roommate or other individual was “controlling” the party and Defendant lacked authority to say who could and could not enter, they were not in control of the residence.
- Defendant did not have knowledge of the minor’s possession or use of alcohol or drugs. Anybody who has been to a large party knows that people may show up uninvited, or attend and drink without interacting with the party’s host at all. If that person was under 21, but the Defendant did not know them or was not aware of their presence, it may be difficult for prosecutors to establish the knowledge element.
- The party was not an “open house party” within the meaning of Florida law. The definition of a party under Florida law is somewhat vague, and Defendants can use this to explain that what they hosted was not really a party at all. A skilled Orlando criminal defense attorney could analyze the situation in better detail and present this argument in court.
Our Orlando Criminal Defense Attorneys at Joshi Law Firm, PA Can Defend You if You Have Been Charged Under Florida’s Open House Party Law
We all like to have fun and enjoy ourselves at a party, or by hosting a party. Sometimes, unfortunately, parties get out of hand and a person can end up sick, injured, or worse. When these things happen, law enforcement tends to pin responsibility on whomever had the keys to the house. If this was you, you may still have important defenses available in a criminal case. Our Orlando criminal attorneys at Joshi Law Firm will review the facts of your case and help map out your legal strategy.