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Ask Our Lawyer - October 2000

Question: My local ABATE chapter is going to have a Halloween party on my property, and I have some concerns about what might happen at the party. Last year, we had a great party, and some of the guests decided they would dress like Lady Godiva. Some of the neighbors complained, but nothing came of it. This year, I have heard that the neighbors have already notified the police, and I expect that they might show up. The major concerns I have are: what gives the police the authority to come on my property, and what would happen if they found some of the (dressed like Lady Godiva and drunk) guests were under 18?

Answer: Big problems can happen, that's what. Let's deal with the question in the order you asked them. If a neighbor calls the police because of a breach of the peace, such as loud music, people running around outdoors naked in public view, then the police that respond to the call would be justified in entering onto the property. If, however, there is no visible evidence of violations, then the officers would need to have a search warrant to enter the property.

If some of the revelers were under 18, then there are additional concerns that affect both the owner (you) and the host (the local chapter). Both of those could be charged with the local criminal equivalent of "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" and possibly other crimes as well. The criminal charges could be assessed against not only the property owners, but also the chapter. The chapter hosting the event is presumed to be in control and could be held liable.

Additionally, there are concerns about civil liability. The presence of under-aged guests raises the stakes for a lawsuit if one of those kids gets in a car and kills themselves or someone else. The fact that the guest is under-aged may circumvent local dram-shop laws, since no under-aged person should be served alcohol. (These laws may act to impose liability on hosts who serve intoxicated guests but may protect a host who does not know that a person being served is intoxicated.)

The general rule of thumb? Getting drunk and Godiva-like at a private party is not illegal so long as there are no minors involved and the public is not able to witness what is happening. Adding teenagers and public nudity, and you and your chapter could be in for quite a scare.