Hosting a Graduation Party Can Mean Steep Penalties for Homeowners

The social host ordinance was adopted in San Diego County in 2003.

It's graduation season, and for many high schoolers who have closed one chapter and are about to embark on another, it means it's time to celebrate. All too often those celebrations involve instances of .

And in the most tragic of cases, a celebration can become a tragedy in an instant, as in the much publicized case of former Torrey Pines High School students Alex Capozza and Branden Butler.

After leaving a house party in October of 2009, Capozza, 17, was killed when the car he was riding in with four other people crashed in the early morning hours in Rancho Santa Fe. Butler, who was driving, admitted to being intoxicated at the time of the crash. In December of that year, Butler, also 17 at the time, was sentenced to serve 547 days at Camp Barrett, an East County juvenile detention facility.

Another storyline that developed from this tragic tale is the question of whether the owner of a home where such a party takes place shares responsibility.

According to a study from the The ARCHS Institute (Applied Research for Community Health and Safety), "Some adults are willing to provide alcohol at such venues because they believe young people will be drinking anyway and it will be less harmful if it is supervised. However, the evidence indicates both of these assumptions are false." (see PDF with this story)

Adopted in 2003 in San Diego County, the Social Host Ordinance (SHO) states that homeowners and primary residents can be punished for hosting a party, gathering or event in which minors are .

And as graduation weekend is upon us, homeowners should be aware of the penalties that are in place if they plan on hosting a party.

According to the county's SHO, each violation of the SHO is a separate charge and may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or infraction.

Language differs among SHOs from different cities and unincorporated areas in the county, but the penalties are the same, and include:

  • A fine of up to $1,000.
  • Imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months.
  • Civil liability for enforcement services (salaries and benefits of law enforcement personnel for the amount of time spent at residence on call, cost of medical treatment for personnel injured, cost of damage to property or equipment).
Kathy June 18, 2011 at 07:14 PM
These penalties just don't seem harsh enough, in my opinion.


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