It’s the police officers’ decision, though, whether to cite any adults for hosting and/or furnishing alcohol to minors. White says they typically base that decision on the amount of alcohol they find, parents’ admissions, partygoers’ statements and/or officers’ own observations. Officers also can leave a party and charge the adult hosts later.
Fines for hosting underage parties in Maryland can be steep. Adults who knowingly allow anyone under 21 (other than family members) to drink in their home may incur a $2,500 fine for the first underage drinker and a $5,000 fine for each additional drinker. Those are criminal violations. Parents who furnish alcohol to minors or violate the adult responsibility law also may be held liable for any harm those underage drinkers might cause. Imagine a teenager leaving your house drunk and then crashing his or her car into someone. The teenager and the victim could both hit you with a civil suit.
In February, the Darnestown woman ended up pleading guilty to two counts of violating the adult responsibility law and was fined $2,500—later reduced to $1,000—for each count. The remaining 19 citations—which could have totaled nearly $100,000 in fines—were “stetted.” That means the case won’t go to trial as long as the woman meets the terms of her two-year supervised probation, which includes regular meetings with a probation officer, no additional legal infractions, a parenting class and 50 hours of community service.
“That was one of the best sentences we’ve received in this type of case,” the police department’s Smalley says. “Of course I’d always like more, but I’m encouraged the courts are seeing this as more of a problem and issuing stiffer penalties.”
In March 2013, James and Jennifer Kress of Bethesda were cited for allowing minors to drink on their property after police officers saw some teenage boys leave their house and get into a car while two urinated on the street. According to his report, Smalley approached the car just as another boy was about to get into the driver’s seat. He said he could smell alcohol on the boy’s breath, and the boy admitted he had been drinking at the Kresses’ home, where both parents were present.
James Kress, an attorney with Baker Botts in Washington, D.C., admitted to knowing underage teens were drinking in his basement, according to Smalley, but said he hadn’t planned to let them leave. As the officers administered Breathalyzer tests to the 17 teens in the Kresses’ basement, some made “smart remarks and acted unruly,” according to Smalley. Police issued 16 citations to the teens, some of whom had BACs as high as .14, the equivalent of six drinks in an hour for a 160-pound male and three to four drinks for a 120-pound female.
Both Kresses were cited for allowing underage drinking on their property. Jennifer Kress pleaded guilty in July and paid a $1,000 fine. Prosecutors dismissed charges against James Kress, who, in accordance with a plea agreement, instead made a donation to an organization that combats underage drinking.
Many parents don’t realize they’re setting the stage for serious and sometimes long-term problems by allowing teens to drink, experts say. A 2004 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teenagers who drink alcohol provided by parents are significantly more likely to drink regularly and to engage in binge drinking—defined by the NIAAA as consuming enough alcohol within two hours to reach BAC levels of .08, the legal limit of intoxication.
Binge drinking can result in teens vomiting, passing out or engaging in other risky behaviors—all while parents are home.
“When you have 40 kids in the basement drinking alcohol, bad judgment happens,” says Maura Lynch, a former assistant state’s attorney now with the Rismiller Law Group in Rockville. “Some kid passes out and chokes and it’s over. Alcohol poisoning, date rape—the stories would make your hair curl.”
Last July, police broke up a party in Olney—just 7 miles from where three underage teens were killed while riding with a drunk driver two years earlier. The father of the girl hosting the Olney party was home all evening and denied knowing that teenagers were drinking, though police noted that one highly intoxicated teen vomited the entire time they were there.
According to police, the man’s daughter finally admitted that several people had brought alcohol and that she had asked her father to stay upstairs—which he did.
Forty partygoers consented to Breathalyzer tests, and 21 were cited with BACs as high as .17, equivalent to seven drinks in an hour for a 160-pound man and four to five for a 120-pound woman.
As with the Darnestown party, the homeowner in the Olney case opened the door to police. But not everyone does—even when there’s an obvious problem.
Last October, officers went to check on a party at a North Potomac home. They watched as a “party bus” dropped off several teens. They could hear the party and saw beer cans in the yard, but when officers went to the front door, the homeowner wouldn’t let them in. Police say he acknowledged there was a party but denied there was any drinking, despite those beer cans and the vodka-filled water bottles that officers found outside.
Even after Officer Jeffrey Innocenti told the homeowner he could see a boy throwing up inside, the man still denied them entry. When the boy continued to vomit, EMTs from the Montgomery County Fire Department were called, but the homeowner barred them from entering, as well.
Eventually, the boy’s father arrived, and he and the homeowner carried the boy up from the basement. Police gave Breathalyzer tests to the boy and another obviously drunk partygoer who had come out of the house.
After more than an hour, during which the homeowner remained uncooperative, police issued him four citations for the two teens they had tested: two for furnishing alcohol to minors and two for violating the adult responsibility law by allowing juveniles to drink on his property. He refused to sign them, and police say he denied any wrongdoing. The police finally left without knowing if the other teens in the house were OK. Charges against the homeowner are pending, with the case expected to reach court later this year.
Sometimes uncooperative parents can make a situation volatile. Take a party this past January at a home in Damascus, where 35 partygoers, many of them allegedly underage, celebrated the 21st birthday of Nicholas Magas. The young man’s mother, Cathy Magas, denied entry to police, so, in an effort to curb the teens’ drinking, they tried to confiscate a keg and several cases of beer sitting outside. According to Montgomery County police, Nicholas Magas tried to grab back some of the beer, allegedly assaulting the officers in the process.
George Magas, the father, then started to shove, kick and punch officers, according to police, with his 18-year-old son, Eric, joining in the fight. George Magas allegedly went for an officer’s gun. Police eventually used their Tasers on George and Eric Magas.
Meanwhile, partygoers inside the house banged on the windows, yelled and cursed at the 11 officers who had converged on the property, police said. After subduing the Magas family, police issued underage drinking citations to 21 partygoers.
George, Cathy, Nicholas and Eric Magas each were charged with 21 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors. George, Cathy and Eric Magas also were charged with second-degree assault, and George Magas was charged with attempting to disarm a law officer. Other charges against the family members include attempting to incite a riot and obstructing and hindering law enforcement officers in the performance of duty.
Police say it could be more than a year before the case is resolved in court.
People generally look at statistics, including the crime rate and the number of arrests made, in evaluating police departments. But when it comes to underage drinking, “effectiveness also needs to be defined as what doesn’t happen,” says Cpl. Rebecca Innocenti, a Montgomery County Police Department spokesperson.
The department knows how many people have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and cited for underage drinking. What it doesn’t know “is what did not happen because of those arrests—the number of collisions that were prevented, the number of injuries prevented, and the number of innocent lives saved,” Innocenti says.
Several officers were thinking about that last December, when they were called to an underage drinking party in the Stonegate neighborhood of Silver Spring. The teenage boy who lived at the house said that his mother was at the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon, according to officers, but that she knew about the party. “She joked, ‘Just keep it under 100’ as she was leaving,” the teen said. Almost all of the partygoers were students at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, and most were underage.