The WHS PTSO hosted a meeting on Wednesday in Westfield High School's Cafeteria B “to make students and parents aware of the responsibilities, potential consequences and liabilities when knowingly or unknowingly hosting parties with alcohol or drugs on their property.”
Members of the panel included WHS Principal Peter Renwick, Director of Athletics Sandy Mamary, Head of K-12 Counseling Maureen Mazzarese, Westfield Police Chief David Wayman, Lt. John Ricerca, Westfield Town Prosecutor Tony Prieto and Personal Injury and Criminal Defense Lawyer Daniel Sloan.
According to PTSO member Ingrid McKinley, the presentation was a culmination of about two years of discussion between the PTSO and the WHS administration.
Throughout the meeting, NJ laws that were referred to including: Statute NJ 2C:33-17B (offering alcohol to an underage person), Statue N.J.S.A 2C:33-15 (possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages by persons under legal age), Social Host Liability Law and Statute NJSA 2A:62A-1 Good Samaritan Act (it is illegal to allow anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol in your home).
*Note: The following answers are paraphrased, not direct quotes. For additional information, view attached documents.
Q: If the police choose to hold a student who is under age and under the influence at a party, what happens?
Wayman: If no adults are present, the kids are all detained and their parents are called. The kids are then released to their parents who sign a Juvenile Release Report. Then the Juvenile Bureau will investigate. If you don’t know about the party because you’re not physically at home or in the area, chances are you won’t be criminally charged because according to the statute you must be knowingly providing the kids with the alcohol. In the case of a minor incident, if you come in for questioning and say, “We should talk to an attorney first,” you give kids the idea that they don’t have to be held responsible for their actions.
Q: In the same situation, if the homeowners are not at home are they responsible and can they be charged?
Prieto: Hosting a party with alcohol is a criminal offense. It is illegal to make your home available for juveniles to consume alcohol, even if you’re not there. You could be charged as a Disorderly Person and receive up to six months in jail (which usually doesn’t happen) and a fine anywhere from $500 - $1,000. You may also be required to have alcohol counseling.
Sloan: It is legal for you to allow your child to drink at home—not in public—if you are there and they have your permission. If other kids come over, they are not legally allowed to drink alcohol unless their parents are physically present and give their permission. But if there is an injury or something else happens, the police are going to try to do as much as they can.
Q: What if there is an injury and someone’s parents sue you?
Prieto: This is where homeowners’ insurance comes in (whether the injury is due to alcohol or not).
Q: Can photos, videos, Facebook, etc. be used to question and/or charge teenagers?
Ricerca: If the situation led to criminal assault or injury or something of that nature, then yes, we try to use everything that we can. But if we just see a picture of a juvenile with a beer can, no, we can’t use that for anything. It can’t be used for prosecution on its own, just if something happens.
Q: If an underage person passes out (after having consumed alcohol), who should be called first?
Wayman: 9-1-1! When they call, the operator will not allow them to hang up until help arrives, and they will ask questions about the person’s condition, what happened, and possibly give instructions.
Prieto: Neither the kid who calls for help, nor the kid who passed out because of alcohol can be prosecuted.
Q: If a kid is a designated driver, are they liable for driving juveniles home who are under the influence?
Sloan: If the driver has a legal curfew and it is passed that time, then they could be charged.
Q: Why doesn’t Westfield pass an ordinance like Cranford and other surrounding towns that allows the police to enter a home if they suspect that underage drinking is going on?
Prieto: The police are not responsible for creating such an ordinance. This can be presented to the Town Council.
Wayman: The police cannot legally walk into someone’s home without their permission. But, if there are kids outside who are clearly drinking then they can get involved. Or if the officer sees that inside the house someone’s life or safety is in danger, then they can enter.
Student athletes at WHS are required to sign a form at the beginning of each season that says that they will not consume alcohol or abuse drugs 24/7 during that season.
Q: Will infractions against this school code follow students on their permanent records?
Mazzarese: The purpose of the policy is to protect students medically, to recognize that there will be punishments for being under the influence because it is unacceptable, and to be alert to students whose academic and athletic performances are affected by such behavior. A transcript has very specific information on it, but disciplinary records are not included—they are not in the counseling records. However, students can choose to write as part of their application about past mistakes and how they have changed.
Q: Are parents required to be present when the school questions students about use of alcohol at school events?
Renwick: No, but they are always informed after the fact.
Q: What is the scope of the athletic code and how is it limited?
Mamary: It only applies to students in the current season. It requires proof (except in the case of a police report). There have been instances of parents bringing their kids in, and instances of kids admitting to their behavior.
According to an insurance agent spoken to by the PTSO, if the homeowners are not at home in the case of juveniles consuming alcohol, a lawsuit will most likely be filed if an incident occurs.
Distance from the residence does not change the liability risk. If there is damage to the home, the homeowner and the attendees may be held responsible. The umbrella policy will help protect the homeowner’s assets, although the policy may become void if you are responsible for serving alcohol to minors. If the home has been vandalized, the insurance agency should be contacted and it is recommended that you file a police report.
If a person receives a Driving Under the Influence summons, usually all car policies and liability and umbrella policies will be cancelled, although it varies. Adults can face jail time and fines.