New Underage Consumption Case strengthens Parental Supervision Exception

A new Illinois Appellate opinion was issued last week that addresses the issue of the “parental supervision” exception to our underage drinking law.

In the case, People v. Haase, 2012 Ill.App. (2d) 110220, Daniel Haase’s parents held a gathering in their home to celebrate his receiving his GED.  Although he was under the age of 21, his parents allowed him to drink one glass of a wine cooler.  Later that night, he left home to help a friend with a disabled truck.  When sheriffs responded to a call of a disabled vehicle, they encountered Mr. Haase and detected an odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath.  He admitted consumption of alcohol and was arrested.  He agreed to submit to a breath test, disclosing a BAC of 0.037.

The underage consumption law (235 ILCS 5/6-20) states:

Sec. 6-20. Transfer, possession, and consumption of alcoholic liquor; restrictions.
(a) Any person to whom the sale, gift or delivery of any alcoholic liquor is prohibited because of age shall not purchase, or accept a gift of such alcoholic liquor or have such alcoholic liquor in his possession…
(e) The consumption of alcoholic liquor by any person under 21 years of age is forbidden.
(f) Whoever violates any provisions of this Section shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
(g) The possession and dispensing, or consumption by a person under 21 years of age of alcoholic liquor in the performance of a religious service or ceremony, or the consumption by a person under 21 years of age under the direct supervision and approval of the parents or parent or those persons standing in loco parentis of such person under 21 years of age in the privacy of a home,is not prohibited by this Act.

At trial, the defendant relied on the statutory “parental supervision” exception as a defense.  However, the prosecution argued that the law required the parent to continue to directly supervise the defendant until all alcohol had been eliminated from his blood.  The trial judge agreed with the State, and found the defendant guilty.

On appeal, the case was reversed.  The Appellate Court stated,

Defendant argues that the exemption requires that a parent directly supervise his consumption of alcohol, not his actions after consuming the alcohol, and the language of the statute supports his position. The exemption decriminalizes “the consumption by a person under 21 years of age under the direct supervision and approval of the parents.” 235 ILCS 5/6-20(g) (West 2008). This language is plain in requiring the direct supervision of the consumption of the alcohol; it says nothing about the necessity of parental supervision once the consumption is done. To interpret the exemption as requiring parents to directly supervise their children until the alcohol has been completely metabolized would be to read into the exemption a requirement the legislature did not express…

[T]he State’s interpretation of the statute—requiring the supervising parent to directly supervise the minor until all of the alcohol has been metabolized—would lead to an absurd result.  As defendant points out, to require a parent to directly supervise his or her minor child until all of the alcohol has been metabolized would place such an untenable burden on the parent that few parents would be willing or able to comply. To ascertain whether the minor had completely metabolized all of the alcohol, the parent would have to administer a breath test, which requires special equipment and training.

I think it is important to note that the case distinguished the facts of this case with those of an earlier case where a parent had not been carefully monitoring her son’s drinking.  Also, the opinion only addresses the offense of underage drinking — in other words, parental supervision of drinking is not a defense if the underaged person were to leave the home and get a DUI, for instance.  In that situation, not only could the underaged person face a criminal charge, but the parent might be charged as well.

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