When it comes to hosting parties for teens, many parents in Wisconsin assume it's perfectly legal to supply alcohol to underage guests, as long as the party is confined to their home. The common assumption is that the kids would be safer drinking in this kind of controlled environment than someplace else.
However, the law in Wisconsin does not follow this line of reasoning.
With little exception, it is illegal to serve alcohol to guests who are under 21 years of age in Wisconsin--even in your home.
This article by Stangl Law will help clarify when it is and is not legal to serve alcohol to guests under the age of 21 in your home, give a glimpse into the potential penalties you risk in doing so and offer a first step if you are currently facing charges resulting from providing alcohol to underage drinkers in Wisconsin.
Is it Legal to Give My Teenager Alcohol in Wisconsin?
It's easy to understand why there is so much confusion surrounding the issue of giving alcohol to minors, teens and underage drinkers in The Badger State. After all, parents and guardians in Wisconsin are legally allowed to give alcohol to their own underage children, both in their homes and in a bar or restaurant. The only stipulations are that the consenting parent or guardian must be 21 or older and remain present.
Of course, parents are encouraged to exercise caution if deciding to offer their kids alcohol, especially if your teenager or 20-year old might be driving afterwards.
Consider reading the article, "What To Do if Your Teen is Arrested for OWI in Wisconsin" by Stangl Law for more information, especially if your son or daughter is facing drunk driving charges.
Is it Legal to Give Underage Guests Alcohol?
While the law in Wisconsin does allow parents to serve their own children alcohol under certain conditions, it is not legal to serve alcohol to other people's children in the same manner.
The following rule of law is not limited to those who sell alcohol to anyone under 21, contribute money for the illegal purchase of alcohol for underage drinkers or purchase alcohol directly for underage drinkers when asked (known as "shoulder tapping"), it also includes well-intentioned parents hosting parties with minor or underage guests in attendance.
The legality of providing alcohol to people under the age of 21 is clearly defined in the following restrictions under Wisconsin State Statute 125.07(1)(a):
1. 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.
2. No licensee or permittee may sell, vend, deal or traffic in alcohol beverages to or with any underage person not accompanied by his or her parent, guardian or spouse who has attained the legal drinking age.
3. 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. This subdivision does not apply to alcohol beverages used exclusively as part of a religious service.
The law goes on to explain an adult is not allowed to "intentionally encourage or contribute" to any violation of the above restrictions.
Basically, Wisconsin law does allow you to legally serve alcohol to an underage guest--but only if the child's parent or guardian is 21 or older, consents and remains present.
If, however, the child's parent or guardian is not present, is not 21 or older or does not consent, you cannot legally provide any form of alcoholic drink to that minor or underage guest.
Violating the above restrictions puts you at risk of a range of potential penalties, such as fines and even jail time.
While there are some exceptions to this rule (such as certain religious events or work-related tasks requiring the handling of alcohol), it is generally not legal to give alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 in Wisconsin.
Any adult choosing to serve alcohol to a minor or underage drinker is strongly encouraged to exercise great caution in doing so, especially if the underaged individual might later be driving.
The Potential High Cost of Playing Host to Underage Drinkers
What many parents in Wisconsin don't realize when they agree to host a party in their home where teenagers or other underage kids plan to be drinking alcohol, is that they could end up facing more than just a civil forfeiture penalty.
This is only the beginning of the consequences you risk facing by serving teens or underage guests alcohol, since you have no control of what happens once the underage drinker leaves you home. Depending on what unfolds next, you could end up facing felony charges in Wisconsin where you may be sentenced to lengthy jail time, steep fines and other consequences.
You may be wondering, "How can giving a teen just a couple of beers lead to me going to jail?"
Let's break it down.
If an underage guest who consumes alcohol at your home later gets into an accident resulting from drunk driving and causes someone to be injured, you--as the person who was responsible for providing alcohol, or social host--could be charged with a Class H felony.
Penalties for a Class H felony in Wisconsin are severe and can include up to 6 years in jail, and/or fines up to $10,000, in addition to other consequences depending on the details of your case.
If the same scenario were to take an even more tragic turn, resulting in the death of another person as a result of the accident, you could be charged with a Class G felony for having supplied alcohol to the intoxicated underage driver while in your care.
Penalties for a Class G felony in Wisconsin are even more severe and can include up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine up to $25,000, in addition to other costs and consequences.
Final Thoughts About Social Hosting
Use the information from this article to help inform your decision whether or not to host drinking parties for minors or underage drinkers in Wisconsin.
Considering the potential tragic outcome, costs and penalties you risk facing if you choose to serve alcohol to underage guests in your home, you might elect not to provide alcohol to your guests under 21 years of age at your next party or event.
If you are facing charges in Wisconsin due to an injury or death resulting from an accident involving an intoxicated underage drinker who was a guest in your home, contact a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
FREE 15-Minute Consultation
If tragedy resulted after a party or event you hosted for teenagers or underage drinkers and you are now facing criminal charges in Wisconsin, Stangl Law understands the stress you are under. Though you are likely still processing the events that have transpired, you need to take the first step in getting through this serious legal battle by consulting an aggressive and proven criminal defense attorney.