Byline: MATT COLEMAN
The grills will be smoking, the tunes will be blasting and the drinks will be flowing.
Graduation parties for high school students will be in full swing this week and some have already begun, but all that fun can come to a sobering end if a partygoer under the age of 21 partakes in any booze.
Open-house parties with alcohol are par for the course during graduation season, but authorities are urging parents and party hosts to be aware of underage drinking. Providing alcohol to minors is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail, and authorities will be out in force to send that message.
In Jacksonville there were 17 open-house party arrests in 2007, up from 13 in 2006.
Police are usually alerted to these parties through noise complaints or reports of multiple vehicles flooding a residential area, said Lt. Ronnie Gann of the juvenile crime unit in Clay County, where 23 such arrests were made last year. He said once officers determine who is in charge of a party, they decide what course of action to take. The host's previous arrest record also can be a factor.
"Prior arrests or failing to appear in court could mean a trip to jail for the night," Gann said.
The law doesn't just pertain to parents who pass out booze to underage revelers -- it states adults and party hosts need to take "reasonable steps to prevent the possession or consumption of the alcoholic beverage or drug" by minors.
That means parents are in violation of the law if a party with underage drinking is thrown at their home. Even if they don't organize the party, parents are liable if nothing is done to stop it, Gann said.
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda said enforcement of this law depends on community assistance. She said officers often hear about underage drinking at a party after the celebration has ended. She encourages parents and students who hear about plans for parties involving underage alcohol consumption to let authorities or school resource officers know in advance.
"They are responsible for protecting the minors that are too immature to appreciate the consequences of illegal drinking," Bujeda said.
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