As a State College criminal defense attorney, I routinely deal with Underage Drinking and Furnishing Alcohol to Minors cases that stem from the police being called to Penn State parties that got out of control. However, a recent party in Fox Chapel near Pittsburgh has put a routine Penn State frat party to shame as the crowd of over 700 people between the ages of 18 and 24 required support from 19 different police stations to disperse the crowds. According to the online news, it sounds as if the police were summoned after angry neighbors grew tired of party guests driving through or parking on neighboring lawns.
While the number of party guests is out of the norm, the fact that the police did not file any Furnishing Alcohol to Minors charges or Underage Drinking citations is unbelievable. I cannot imagine that the police allowed intoxicated drivers to get behind the wheel and drive away, but there were no driving under the influence charges filed either. Did all of the guests have a sober driver to take them home?
Underage Drinking Party Hosts and Involuntary Manslaughter Charges
If anyone was permitted to drive away while intoxicated and got into an accident later, the party hosts could face both civil and criminal penalties. A few years ago, a parent allegedly allowed her minor children to host an underage drinking party at her house. One of the underage drinkers drove off with three other party goers, and the foursome got into an accident in which three of the kids perished. The woman was charged and convicted of three counts of Involuntary Manslaughter.
In order to be convicted of a Pennsylvania charge of Involuntary Manslaughter, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2504, the prosecution must show that the person either acted recklessly or with gross negligence; and there must be a causal nexus between the conduct of the accused and the death of the victim. In the case, captioned Commonwealth v. McCloskey, the woman appealed the convictions and argued that there was insufficient evidence that she had acted recklessly or that her actions caused the accident. The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected her arguments and stated that "[w]e are certain that a parent who knows alcohol is being served to minors in her home is acting recklessly when she allows the conduct to continue." With regard to the causation issue, the court stated that the woman's "furnishing" of alcohol to minors "started the chain of causation" that led to the death of three teens, so the court rejected the causation argument as well.
Hopefully all the drivers that left the party were sober and made it home safely. If not, the drivers of the vehicles and the party hosts face civil and criminal penalties. It is possible that the police could also be sued to for allowing drunk drivers to get behind the wheel. Again, I want to emphasize that there is no accusation that the police allowed any drunk person to drive from the scene. However, I was surprised in a prior Mifflin County DUI case when police watched a client that had been arrested earlier in the evening for driving under the influence get behind the wheel again and drive for two miles. It does happen.