Thursday, July 06, 2006

Drunken Party in Alabama!

Dan Filler has two interesting posts up about a proposed law in an Alabama city targeting "open house parties", defined as a party in which two or more underaged youth consume alcohol. The law would impose "strict liability" on the homeowners (i.e., parents) of the house, that is, they would still be punished even if they knew nothing about the party and took all reasonable steps one could be expected to take to prevent it.

Filler thinks that whether strict liability is justified constitutes a "tough" question. I don't--I think it's a troublesome theory in most cases and particularly bad here, where the steps beyond "reasonable" parents would presumably be incentivized to take could very easily cross-over into abuse.

Another question off of this law is what it means for a family which lets their two kids drink wine at dinner. Technically, they'd be liable under this law. When asked about that possibility, the local police chief said that it wouldn't be a problem because there would be virtually no circumstance in which the police would get a call to search the house for such an "offense." But as Filler points out, it's probably bad to write poor legislation and then count on the constitution to bail you out of enforcing the troublesome parts. At the very least, the risk of targeted prosecution is a problem, but it also encourages weak and overly broad legislation.

Anyway, since I don't turn 21 until February, this still has some relevancy to me. Not much, since I live in Maryland, go to school in Minnesota, don't drink, and don't know anybody from Alabama, but still, some.


@Leslie said...

They just enacted this law in NH. So far it has had no ramifications such as, say, the loss of house and home from your teenager acting like, gee, a teenager, and disobeying you. We voted no because of the potential for harm. Cest La Vie.

Stentor said...

I can easily enough imagine a situation where the police would get called over wine at dinner. Imagine Joe and Mary get divorced, and Joe feels deeply wronged (either by the stuff Mary did that precipitated the divorce, or because he thinks the courts were unfair to him). He knows that Mary sometimes serves their kids wine at dinner (perhaps the kids mention it when they visit him). So he calls the cops so that he can get revenge on Mary.

Now, hopefully the cops wouldn't bother prosecuting in this instance, but depending on the discretion of the police to make your laws reasonable is an even worse proposition than relying on the Constitution.