Thank you to the State Bar of California hich produced the “Kids and the Law” of which this is an extract. For the entire booklet go to: Children’s law

The legal age for drinking alcohol in California , however, is 21. (B&PC §§ 25658, 25659) This means that providing alcoholic beverages to anyone under that age is prohibited. In California , an alcoholic beverage is any beverage that contains at least one-half of 1 percent of alcohol. (B&PC § 23004)

Those under 21 are not even permitted to possess alcohol in public places, including state highways or in and around schools. (B&PC § 25662(a)) Minors also must abide by city and county ordinances that prohibit everyone from consuming alcoholic beverages in public parks or recreation areas. Anyone, adult or minor, who possesses an open container of alcohol in a prohibited area is guilty of an infraction. (B&PC § 25620)

Also, with some exceptions, individuals under the age of 21 are prohibited from being in bars or other establishments where liquor is being served. The law makes it illegal to possess false identification or use a fake I.D. to purchase (or attempt to purchase) alcohol or to enter an establishment where alcohol is being served. (B&PC § 25661) While it is legal for those under 21 to be present in a home where adults over 21 are drinking alcohol, it is illegal to provide alcohol to anyone under 21. Parents and others providing the alcohol can be held criminally liable for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

If someone under age 18—or the child’s underage companion—causes a traffic collision after drinking alcohol at home, his or her parent could face a misdemeanor charge, a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The law would apply if the parent permitted the child to consume alcohol or use a controlled substance and then allowed the child to drive (with a blood-alcohol concentration of at least 0.05 percent). (B&PC § 25658.2)

Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) is a very serious crime that often requires the payment of a large fine, a mandatory jail sentence and the suspension or revocation of a driver’s license, particularly if the young person has been convicted of the same offense in the past. (See Cars, Kids and Traffic Laws.)

 Are there laws that address underage drinking at parties?

Yes. A police officer (who lawfully enters the gathering) can seize alcoholic beverages from anyone under 21 at an unsupervised social gathering. Under Californiaaw, an unsupervised social gathering is a public party or event that is attended by 10 or more people under the age of 21, and is not supervised by a parent or guardian of any of the participants. (B&PC § 25662(b)) The punishment for violating liquor laws varies. The offender may be found guilty of an infraction or a misdemeanor. In addition, young people between the ages of 13 and 21 who violate the law may have their driver’s licenses suspended, revoked or delayed for up to one year for each offense related to the possession, consumption or purchase of alcohol. This is true even if the offense does not involve an automobile. Also, for their first offense, young people may be asked to pay up to $250 in fines or perform community service. A young person convicted of a second or subsequent offense will be fined up to $500 or required to perform more community service. (B&PC §§ 25658, 25662(a); VC § 13202.5)

At least one county also has enacted a Social Host Accountability Ordinance to help curb underage drinking. UnderMarin County’s ordinance, social hosts of any loud or unruly gathering (or the property owners who allowed it to take place) can be fined $750 if any underage guests possess or drink alcohol. After three or more violations, the fine would jump to $2,500. In addition, such hosts would have to pay the costs of responding to the party or breaking it up.

 Can bar operators be held liable for selling alcohol to someone under age 21?

Yes. Laws prohibiting the provision of alcoholic beverages to those under 21 also provide for penalties against bar operators and liquor store owners and their employees. For example, while parents and social hosts generally cannot be sued if a drunken, underage party guest causes someone to be hurt in a traffic collision, bar operators would be liable for civil damages in such situations under certain circumstances. If a bar operator serves alcohol to an underage, obviously intoxicated patron who later causes a car accident, that operator would be civilly liable for the resulting injuries (except for those sustained by the drunken youth). If the intoxicated patron was under 18, the operator could be sued for the patron’s injuries or death as well. (B&PC § 25602.1)

 This information is provided for educational purposes only. For more information about divorce and family law in Los Angeles  please visit www.la-familylaw.com