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‘Social Host Responsibility Law’ followed tragedy

A tragedy following a 1996 party on the South Shore inspired Massachusetts’ Social Host Responsibility Law.

The Legislature enacted the statute on Aug. 4, 2000, four years after Gregory Smith, 18, of Marshfield was killed in a car crash after leaving a graduation party in Cohasset with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. He died after slamming his car into a telephone pole. Cohasset businessman John Lennon, who hosted the party, was acquitted of providing alcohol to a minor.

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The social host law now allows police to charge any adult who owns or controls a home if a minor, other than his or her own child or grandchild, is drinking there, even if the homeowner did not provide the booze. The crime is a misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine, but it still discourages parents from condoning parties with alcohol because they don’t want to land in court, police say.

Some better-known cases in which the social host law was applied:

In July 2007, a former Norwell couple, John and Elizabeth Rice, were charged with supplying alcohol to minors at a Cape Cod party that led to the death of Christopher J. Sweeney, 18, of Norwell. The Norwell High School graduate died in his sleep of acute intoxication of alcohol and opiates. In June 2008, charges against the couple were continued without a finding for one year, and John Rice was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service.

In July 2010, Cohasset resident Elizabeth McQuade and her 18-year-old son were charged after police said they gave alcohol to 23 teenagers at their home. Charges against the mother were continued without a finding for one year, pending successful completion of probation. The charges against her son were dismissed.

Meg Murphy

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