Social Host Liability Laws and Drugs
You’re planning a New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, or Super Bowl party and intend to serve alcohol. During the party, someone drinks too much and, on the way home, crashes into another vehicle, causing injuries and property damage. As a homeowner hosting a party in your own house, are you liable for allowing a guest to overdrink and then cause injury to others?
In Texas, the answer depends on the age of the person serving the liquor and of the person who got intoxicated. Restaurants and bars are covered by what are called dram shop laws, holding them liable for patrons’ negligent behavior after overconsuming alcohol. When individuals host parties in their homes, they are covered by what are called social host laws.
Texas law states that social hosts who are 21 years of age or older are liable for serving liquor to minors, who go on to injure themselves or others or cause property damage, or any combination. A minor is someone under 18 years of age, but the law covers only minors who are unrelated to the person hosting the party.
What if instead of alcohol, or in addition to alcohol, marijuana or other drugs lead to someone getting high and going on to cause injuries or damage? Increasingly on a nationwide level, drugs are falling under the statutory reach of social host laws, but in Texas, no specific initiative has yet been enacted. However, possession of controlled substances is a legal issue on its own, which can lead to charges and penalties. Even marijuana is still illegal to possess in Texas.
If you’ve hosted a gathering and find yourself under investigation for, or being charged with, a social host violation in or around Dallas, Texas, contact us at Madson Castello Law.
We have a combined total of more than 30 years of experience in defending clients’ rights against criminal investigations and charges, and we will assist you in exercising your rights and fighting for the best possible outcome. We proudly serve clients throughout North Texas, including Fort Worth, Denton, and McKinley.
What Is Social Host Liability?
Social host laws are similar to dram shop laws. Dram shop laws cover business establishments that serve alcohol, while social host laws cover individuals on their own property who serve alcohol. Many states’ social host laws cover anyone who gets intoxicated at your annual Super Bowl (or other) party, adults and minors alike, but Texas limits liability to minors unrelated to the host serving the alcohol.
Texas limits liability to instances in which an adult 21 or older has knowingly done either of the following:
Provided or served alcohol to a minor, contributing to that minor’s intoxication; or,
Allowed the minor to become intoxicated on their property (either owned or leased).
Violation of the law is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by incarceration of up to one year and up to $4,000 in fines. However, if you sell the alcohol to the minor who becomes intoxicated, then you can fall under the dram shop statute as a provider rather than as a host. If you’re charged as a provider rather than a host, you could also be liable for an adult who gets intoxicated and goes on to injure themselves or others.
Drug-Related and Other Potential Violations
Texas still outlaws marijuana possession (not to mention stronger drugs like heroin or cocaine). Just having 2 or fewer ounces of marijuana in your possession, a misdemeanor, can lead to up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Penalties go up from there based on the content possessed, up to the incredulous possession of 2,000 pounds, which can result in up to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
Even if you deliver marijuana up to 7 grams as a gift, you can land in jail for 180 days and face a fine of up to $2,000. Again, the penalties increase as the volume of the weed supplied as a gift rises. Also, selling marijuana to a child is punishable by a mandatory sentence of 2 years’ imprisonment, up to 20 years, and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
Suppose you hold a graduation party for your 17-year-old high school child. If your child has marijuana in his or her possession and shares it with others, you might think, “I had no idea, so I can’t be charged.”
Not so quick. The authorities can claim that you had constructive possession of the marijuana (or other drug). Constructive possession means you had the right to exercise control over possession of the drug and you knew you had the right to do so, though you yourself did not have actual physical possession.
So, if your child is gifting marijuana to others at the high school graduation soiree you’re hosting, you as the parent or guardian can also be on the legal hook even if you yourself have never bought or used marijuana, or any other illicit drug.
Get a Skilled Advocate on Your Side
The first thing to remember in a police investigation is to contact a criminal defense attorney before answering any questions other than your identity. It’s important to remember: anything you say can and will be used against you.
We at Madson Castello Law have worked for both prosecution and the defense, so we know how prosecutors operate. We can help you present your side of the story to either get the charge reduced or dropped, as we still have professional contacts throughout the North Texas justice system. If matters do end up in court, we have extensive trial experience, having tried more than 300 cases. We will provide personalized, aggressive advocacy and representation for you.
Reach out immediately if you think a social host or other charge is being considered, or has been levied, and remember to protect your interests by not answering questions until you receive knowledgeable legal guidance from us at Madson Castello Law.