For any college student, hosting or attending a party is a common experience. Students have every right to enjoy the company of friends, meet new people, and relax from the rigors of their studies. This article is intended to outline the potential legal consequences of hosting or attending a party where alcohol is served. Both host and guest should be aware that local ordinances, state and federal laws, as well as Central Michigan University regulations govern the circumstances that often arise with the distribution of alcohol. A working knowledge of these regulations means that the people involved can make informed decisions about their behavior and actions at a party.
Any party, with or without alcohol being served, risks problems of being identified as a “Nuisance Party", guests being arrested for disorderly conduct, littering or lease violations. Add alcohol to this scenario, and the risks drastically increase to include criminal violations such as serving alcohol to a minors, and minor in possession (MIP). Knowing the laws and how they are enforced will hopefully allow one to lawfully host or attend a party and have a good time without creating problems with your neighbors or local police.
Some Specific Criminal Offenses
Consumption of Alcohol in Public
Consuming alcohol on any public property, including but not limited to streets, sidewalks and public buildings, is prohibited. Mount Pleasant Ordinance 132.01 states:
(A) No alcoholic liquors shall be consumed on any public highway, street, alley, public place, or place of amusement or recreation open to the public not licensed by the state to sell alcoholic liquors.
(B) No person shall transport or possess any alcoholic liquor in a container which is open, uncapped, or upon which the seal is broken, on the public streets, sidewalks, or rights-of-ways of the city.
(C) It shall be unlawful for any person to consume alcoholic liquor on the public highways, street and alleys, vehicle parking lots, or any public place within the city where the consumption of alcoholic liquor is prohibited by the laws of the state.
You are prohibited from possessing, in a public place such as a street or sidewalk, a container of alcohol which is open, uncapped, or has a broken seal. Often, partygoers are ticketed (sometimes arrested!) when the party spills out onto the sidewalk or street. Local police will not only ticket the possessor, but will likely hold the party host responsible for what is happening outside their residence. Keep the alcohol, open or otherwise, on your property!
Mount Pleasant Ordinance 96.04 criminalizes what is defined as a “nuisance gathering". The Ordinance states:
A)Nuisance gathering defined. A gathering which is conducted on premises within the city and which, by reason of the conduct of those persons in attendance, results in any one or more of the following conditions or occurrences: public drinking or drunkenness; public urination or defecation; the unlawful sale, furnishing, or consumption of intoxicating beverages; the unlawful deposit of trash or litter on public or private property; the destruction of public or private property; the generation of pedestrian or vehicular traffic which obstructs the free flow of residential traffic or interferes with the ability to render emergency services; excessive, unnecessary or unusually loud noise which disturbs the comfort and quiet repose of the neighborhood; public disturbances, brawls, fights or quarrels; or which results in any similar conduct or conditions which annoys, injures, or endangers the safety, health, comfort, or repose of the neighboring residents, or results in any indecent or obscene conduct, or results in any immoral exhibition or indecent exposure by persons at the gathering, is hereby declared to be an unlawful public nuisance.
(B)Nuisance prohibited. Any person being the owner, occupant, tenant or otherwise having any possessory control, individually or jointly with others, of any premises who either sponsors, conducts, hosts, invites, suffers, permits, continues, or allows to continue a gathering which is or during the course thereof becomes a public nuisance as defined by division (A) above is hereby deemed to have committed a violation of this Code of Ordinances, and upon conviction shall be subject to the penalties as provided by § 96.99 (http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll?f=id%24id=Mount%20Pleasant,%20Michigan%20City%20Code%3Ar%3Ad48%24cid=michigan%24t=document-frame.htm%24an=JD_96.99%243.0#JD_96.99). In any prosecution for a violation of this section, proof of specific of intent shall not be required as a necessary element.
(C)Persons attending nuisance gathering. Any person in attendance at a nuisance gathering as defined by division (A) above whether or not such person has any possessory control shall be deemed to have committed a violation of this section and upon conviction, shall be punished as provided in § 96.99 (http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll?f=id%24id=Mount%20Pleasant,%20Michigan%20City%20Code%3Ar%3Ad48%24cid=michigan%24t=document-frame.htm%24an=JD_96.99%243.0#JD_96.99).
This offense is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 90 days jail or up to a $500 fine. The ordinance is very broad in its coverage and would likely make any roommate or other person in control of the premises liable to arrest as well. It is the responsibility of the host to control the gathering. Don’t let the party go out of bounds on your watch. If the police come and ask you to turn down the music, expect they will be back. If so, it is likely that tickets are going to be written, or worse, someone is going to jail.
Your lease may have terms that allow the landlord to evict a tenant for certain criminal violations. These could include nuisance gatherings, use and/or sale of illegal drugs, serving alcohol to a minor, and consumption of alcohol by a minor.
Unknown to many students is the fact that the University Office of Student Life, has jurisdiction to discipline students for activity that is off-campus and unrelated to any University event. These proceedings are not criminal in nature, and the due process you are afforded is very limited. Students are not even entitled to have an attorney speak on their behalf at Student Life disciplinary hearings. Be smart. Keep your activities under control and within the confines of your property and the law.
If the Police Come to Your Party
First and foremost, be polite. Being aggressive or surly with the police will only make matters worse for yourself, your roommates and your guests. Identify yourself as the host and if you are requested to do so. Remember that the police must have either a search warrant or consent to enter your house. If you are arrested, don’t resist or try to avoid the police. You will most likely be charged for Resisting and Obstructing, a much more serious offense than a Nuisance Party violation or alcohol charge.
If you are arrested, most importantly, don’t say anything! You are not going to talk the police out of taking you to jail; you have the right to remain silent. You shouldn't answer any questions the police ask unless you have an attorney present, and anything that you say can and will be used against you.
Being responsible and exercising moderation are the keys to enjoying a party. If things get out of control, expect that the police will become involved. Keeping in mind the risks of irresponsible alcohol use, as well as the responsibilities both the guest and host allows everyone to have a good time, and avoid law enforcement entanglements.