Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming is poised to propose an amendment to the county’s social host law setting clearer standards for adults who find themselves on the wrong side of the law after a minor is caught drinking or drugging in their home.
The amendment, which is being tweaked by Fleming, a former assistant district attorney, and the legislature’s legal counsel, will tackle the difficult task of carefully defining mens rea, the legal term for a person’s intent and knowledge of whether their action or lack of action could lead to the commission of a crime, within the law.
An example of how the term could come into effect would be if an adult was hosting a party for minors under the age of 21 and they walk through an area in the basement and he or she doesn’t stop to see what is in the cups, Fleming explained.
Fleming said she wants the amendment to address holding criminals accountable for their actions, however, she does not want it to unfairly target individuals who legitimately are unaware a minor is drinking inside their home.
“I want to make sure that we are being as aggressive as appropriate to prevent young people from having easy access to drugs and alcohol,” said Fleming, whose district includes the South Fork.
The county’s current Social Host law, which has been in effect since 2007, makes serving alcohol to minors in one’s home a misdemeanor. Illicit drugs were included under the law just last month as another tool in the county’s arsenal in the opioid epidemic.
The amendment comes on the heels of two East End cases where two defendants were exonerated of charges filed against them under the social host law. In the first case, a former school board member had charges dropped against her in July last year after investigators from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office could not find substantial evidence she violated the law when minors were caught by Sag Harbor police drinking at her house.
In the second case, an Amagansett dad was acquitted of charges that were lodged against him after he called 911 for a drunk partygoer at his son’s prom party last year. In a decision issued last month, East Hampton Town Justice Steven Tekulsky stated there was no direct evidence the parent had knowledge alcohol was imbibed in his home.
Fleming said she is confident that she will receive support for the amendment from her colleagues if she can develop precise language in the legislation that is fair.
“We do need to find a solution to that concern,” she said.