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Understanding San Diego’s Social Host Ordinance

By San Diego Attorney on February 20, 2021

Anyone who has hosted a party knows how difficult it is to wrangle guests together and keep things orderly, especially when alcohol is involved. It is very easy to become distracted and lose track of the situation. If you are hosting anyone under the age of 21, you face certain legal difficulties in San Diego. Our county has strict laws designed to combat underage drinking, including a Social Host Ordinance that allows district attorneys to prosecute party hosts for allowing underage drinking to occur on their watch.

Requirements for Party Hosts in San Diego County

It is against the law for an adult to allow a minor to consume alcohol or drugs, or contribute to these actions, according to California Penal Code 272 PC. Referred to as Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor, this law is designed to punish adults who either encourage or fail to prevent a minor from committing a crime. This includes encouraging a teenager to shoplift, luring a child into a vehicle, or purchasing alcohol for high schoolers.

San Diego County’s Social Host Ordinance goes one step further. In our neighborhoods, hosts are responsible for ensuring that underage guests (under 21 years old) do not consume alcohol or marijuana in any form while on their property. Hosts can be charged if they knowingly provide alcohol or marijuana to underage guests, are aware that underage guests are illegally drinking or using drugs and do nothing about it, or reasonably should have been aware that underage drinking or smoking is occurring.

If a host does become aware of these activities, then he should immediately take steps to stop them, including taking the drugs or alcohol from the guests, contacting their parents, and ensuring that they do not get in their vehicles. Failure to do so may not only lead to the host being charged with a misdemeanor, but can also result in civil liability if an underage driver gets in a DUI accident.

The Social Host Ordinance does not apply to an underage guest’s parents if they are hosting the party or if the parents are out of town and their child hosts the party, but parents can be charged if their child’s friends consume alcohol or drugs at their party. In addition, the host of the party does not have to be 21 to be charged with this crime.

The San Diego Sheriff’s Office requires that hosts:

  • Confirm the age of all guests
  • Control access to alcohol or marijuana on the property and prevent anyone under 21 from consuming it
  • Supervise minors

Violating the Social Host Ordinance can result in:

  • Up to six months in a San Diego County jail
  • Fines of up to $1,000 or more
  • Additional fees for law enforcement services
  • Summary probation

According to the San Diego Sheriff’s Office, most defendants are typically charged with a $1,000 fine for the first offense, but a second charge can lead to a $2,000 fine and a six-month jail sentence. Hosts can also face civil penalties if a guest causes a DUI accident.

Discretion of San Diego Neighborhoods

While this law applies to all cities in San Diego County, each county has the right to pass its own laws and determine how to approach these cases. For example, Vista’s Social Host Ordinance allows prosecutors to decide whether to reduce a misdemeanor charge to an infraction depending on how large the party was or the amount of alcohol or drugs available for consumption. In addition, San Marco’s Social Host Ordinance requires hosts to card any adult guest who appears to be under 30. Given the complexity behind each city’s laws, hosts can be justifiably confused about what responsibilities they have and when they are violating the law due to an honest mistake.

Speak to an Experienced Defense Lawyer

If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime in San Diego County, you should contact jD LAW. With in-depth knowledge of local laws, our experienced San Diego criminal defense lawyers can review the charges against you in a free case evaluation and explain your rights. Our firm specializes in DUI cases and can provide a strong defense to have your charges reduced or dropped altogether. To discuss your case with a skilled legal team, call jD LAW at (760) 630-2000.

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James N. Dicks
jD LAW, P.C.

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