New Proposal to Strengthen Wisconsin’s Social Host Law

Under a new law proposed by State Representative Andre Jacque and State Senator Van Wanggaard, it will be illegal for adults who knowingly allow people under 21 to drink alcohol on their property.  The social host law, found in Wis. Stat. § 125.07, is up for interpretation after an October 2016 Court of Appeals decision that narrowly defined the term “premises.”  And while many municipalities have their own social host laws, the Court of Appeals case may have invalidated most of them.

Wisconsin’s Social Host Law

Wis. Stat. § 125.07 states in part:

  • No person may procure for, sell, dispense or give away any alcohol beverages to any underage person not accompanied by his or her parent, guardian or spouse who has attained the legal drinking age;
  •  No adult may knowingly permit or fail to take action to prevent the illegal consumption of alcohol beverages by an underage person on premises owned by the adult or under the adult’s control.

If someone violates this section, they may be required to forfeit not more than $500 if there has not been a previous violation in the previous 30 months.  The penalties increase if there are subsequent violations.

The definition of “premises” is what came under fire in the 2016 Court of Appeals case.  A parent hosting a graduation party for his son in Fond du Lac was fined $1,000 under the municipal law after police found out alcohol was being consumed on his property.  The Court of Appeals overturned the conviction because they defined “premises” to only include establishments with licenses or permits to distribute alcohol.  Further, the Court ruled that the $1,000 fine exceeded the maximum of $500 permitted by the state statute.

The distinction now is between adults who procure, sell, or dispense alcohol to minors and adults who simply allow minors to bring their own alcohol to the homes.  As the state law currently stands under the recent decision, allowing minors to bring their own alcohol seems to be legal.  And this loophole is what the state lawmakers want to close.

Most local municipalities still have their own social host laws, but any local law that fails to comport with state law is invalid.  This means that any local law that has a fine exceeding $500 for a first offense is invalid, just like it was in Fond du Lac.

Importantly, there are other consequences to adults who host underage drinkers, both civil and criminal.  An adult may be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, though that would likely only be used in extreme cases.  Further, if an underage person were seriously injured or killed as a result of an adult providing alcohol to a minor, the adult faces criminal liability as well.

If you have questions about Wisconsin’s social host law, feel free to give one of our attorneys a call.  If you have been charged with underage drinking or providing alcohol to a minor, you should also consider hiring an attorney to ensure that the law you are charged under is valid.  Contact us today!