Will I be guilty through association?
August 25, 2009 12:47 PM   Subscribe

LegalFilter: Can I get in trouble based on my roommates' parties?

I am a 22 year old graduate student in Salem, OR on track to become an elementary school teacher. While I consider myself a fun person, I am not interested in compromising myself by partying with underage persons.

Because I have very little money I am going to be living in one bedroom of a seven bedroom house with several underage undergrads for the one year duration of my program.

The girls I am going to live with are very nice and respectful. However, they like to party. Most of them are underage. It is critical that I do not get into any legal trouble as it will tarnish my reputation and possibly result in the revoking of my teaching license. I have already signed a lease and really have no where else to go.

My question: If I am not intoxicated, have not purchased any alcohol, and am not participating in any of the parties, can I still be held legally accountable if I am studying in my room if the police come? I really don't know what to do and I am certain that these girls will have parties. Would the police be understanding if I explained my situation? Is there an appeal process if I were to be charged with anything? Thank you for any and all information!
posted by delicate_dahlias to Law & Government (20 answers total)
 
your school should offer some sort of free legal counseling. go talk to them. don't leave something this important up to the internet.
posted by nadawi at 12:55 PM on August 25, 2009


can you?

Possibly

will you?

Probably depends on the police office/s present and how crappy a night they've had, also depends on how out of hand it gets I suspect.

I've skipped events where there was going to be lots of underage drinking and loud unplanned noise, even though they looked to be massive amounts of fun because of concerns about my job and that type of possible interaction with the police.

No one can guarantee you will not get in trouble in this situation.
posted by edgeways at 12:56 PM on August 25, 2009


Is the house you're living in on campus, or very close to campus? Are there a lot of other students attending the same university living around you? My school had all students living off-campus register their addresses with the school, with the understanding that noise complaints would be handled by campus police and not the local PD. This kept students from getting in any trouble with the law, as long as they weren't doing anything too horrible. The consequence for a loud party that bothered the neighbors was usually a $200 fine from the school, no real questions asked about the age of the partiers. If this is the case at your school (you can probably get an answer by calling your residential life office), I think it would be totally within your rights to ask that your roommates be responsible for paying any fines occurred this way.

If you actually would be dealing directly with the local police department, I think you have two options to ensure that you have no dealings with the police:
1. Just make sure you're not home when the parties happen.
2. Institute a quiet time, including weekends (no partying in the house after midnight or something). Your roommates can go elsewhere, and no one really calls the cops on weekends before midnight anyway.

That said, police tend to be really used to breaking up parties, and as long as no one's in physical danger, they'd most likely just break up the party. You're totally within good roommate boundaries to suggest that whoever throws a party is responsible for dealing with cops; simply living there shouldn't implicate you in anything.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


*incurred. someone needs a snack.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:10 PM on August 25, 2009


Look, from a legal perspective, you're in the clear: You're over 21, so you're not intoxicated. To prove aiding and abetting, you'd have to show that you actively were buying them alcohol.

That being said, cops can charge you with anything. They just write a citation, and then the burden is on you to disprove it. All that stuff will appear on your record.

When I was in college, I was underage, and my friends had a party at my place (we would do this often). I was coming back from an event, and I hadn't been drinking. The cops were called and I showed up to my apartment after they got there.

I was charged with underage drinking and aiding and abetting. I wasn't even there!

What happened? Well I went to court, and then you realize that lawyers are expensive. You also realize that if you went to a "trial", it's just going to be your word against a cops. Most states have "deferred prosecution programs" where you basically go do community service (I had to do 50 hours) and the case is dismissed. You can then have it expunged, it's wiped off your record, and you'll be fine.

I tell you my story because in general, I'm very distrustful of police now. I was nice, straight-forward to the police, explained them the situation, and they still gave me the citation. To this day, I refuse to donate a single dollar to my alma mater because of this incident (it was campus police).

So anything can happen.

That being said, if I were you, even with what I know now, I wouldn't bother worrying. You're not on the lease, you're overage, your door is closed, you're a girl, you're sober...the cops would have to be HUGE pricks to cite you with something.

and maybe there's a 0.001% chance you will, but if that happens, there won't be any long-term ramifications, as long as you spend about $500 cleaning it up. You'll be okay.

Have fun and enjoy the year.
posted by unexpected at 1:23 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


The laws in Oregon seem to be a little murky on the subject. Go to this page and click on Oregon to get their laws. IANAL, but it would seem to be you would only be vulnerable under two circumstances:

1. You bought the alcohol for your roommates
2. You are hosting the party where underage drinking is occuring

Now, in reality, if you are on or near a college campus, they are not going to bust anyone for underage drinking, unless the offending parties are doing something to really piss off the cops (like making them show up multiple times to break up a party that is too noisy). I would say that you have very little to worry about.
posted by suburbanrobot at 1:30 PM on August 25, 2009


I think you're overthinking this. Plenty of people have been in your same shoes that are teachers today -- hell, plenty of them were probably right out there in the mix. My experience [two universities] has been that cops in college towns care more about drugs than underage drinking and about public intoxication even more than that. If your roommates are throwing parties all the time and getting noticed, I'm sure the cops will eventually show up, but if you're in your room, at a desk with headphones on while scantily-clad young women are running amok trying to get out of there, do you think they're really going to go after you? The only parties I've seen crashed by police have been because there was some sort of physical violence and/or the noise was just absolutely obscene.

I don't know what your actual houseplan looks like, but if your door is shut and unless they have reason to believe there are other, more illegal, activities going on in the house -- they probably won't even notice you. You seem to be worried that someone is going to place the responsibility of making sure these girls stay on the right track on you. College is college; the police and the schools are fully aware of the living situations students have to deal with.

Where your main concern should be is what happens if one or more of these girls is unable to continue living there based on their actions. I'm sure your lease already states the procedures about all of that though, so you really shouldn't worry about anything.

On preview, unexpected's situation was really messed up but being as you're over 21 and as long as you don't leave anything that could even remotely look like breadcrumbs (some cops are relentless) for aiding a minor, you should be in the clear.
posted by june made him a gemini at 1:33 PM on August 25, 2009


According to this publication by the State government, it is a crime for someone "excercising control" over an apartment (e.g. you, a lessee) to "allow" an underage person to either drink in your apartment or to remain there having consumed alcohol elsewhere:
ORS 471.410(3) Controlling an area where minors are permitted to consume alcohol

It is illegal for someone exercising control over private real property to allow any person under 21 to consume alcohol on the property in your presence. It is also illegal to allow any person under age 21 to remain on the property if they have consumed alcohol. Private real property may include a hotel room, camp site, or any rented/leased location. The only exception is for your own minor child(ren). If you control an area where minors consume alcohol, you will receive a criminal citation. (Criminal Violation)
So, yes, it is plausible that you could end up on the hook. IANAL, but amazingly it would seem that you may actually be obligated to actively eject underage drinkers from your apartment in order to avoid criminal liability.
posted by onshi at 1:42 PM on August 25, 2009


I would temper my observation above with another observation, which is that there are literally hundreds of thousands of criminal offenses in the United States (more or less depending on where you live, with 200k+ on the Federal books alone). Practically speaking there is no way whatsoever to be certain that you are not potentially criminally liable at any given moment. This is why outspoken retired police officers will tell you to never, ever, EVER talk to directly to the police without a lawyer unless you urgently require their assistance. I don't necessarily endorse that view, but... there you have it.

Others upthread suggest that you are over-reacting, and this may be the case, but if you are truly uncomfortable with your situation to such an extent that you really need to do anything about it, you could make yourself scarce during parties rather than holing up in your room.
posted by onshi at 1:48 PM on August 25, 2009


I don't know Oregon law, but based on California law, don't assume that not being there or not being involved would legally leave you in the clear -- If Unexpected had been in California, what he did would have been illegal (if you are under 21 and in the same room as drunk people (not drinking people, drunk people) under 21 in California, you are doing something illegal (this has the added bonus of making designated drivers in groups of underage kids criminals, hooray!), and for example if parents go out of town and their kids have a party in their house without their knowledge while they were gone, they've done something illegal.

I would, at the very least, have a place to crash outside your house whenever there is a party, and never ever bring any alcohol of your own in the house (because of course if someone steals and drinks it, you have furnished alcohol to a minor).

The police will not be understanding, but there are always appeals.

That said, you are very unlikely to be busted for this, and even less likely to have your career affected because of it.
posted by brainmouse at 1:49 PM on August 25, 2009


oinopaponton makes a good case. The cops have been breaking up underage drinking parties since the beginning of time. I went to a bash in high school that got out of control and when the cops showed up, they were hardly interested in sober little me. They were much more interested in the naked guy pissing in the swimming pool.

When I was in university, I lived in a house that had awesome big parties every few months. Shoulder-to-shoulder people throughout the house, good music, shitloads of empties at the end of the night, and a good time had by all. It worked perfectly. You say these girls are nice and respectful - what are their friends like? Ours were good, decent people. And the cops were never called because we just didn't tolerate drunken fuckery in our house - and neither should you. Then again, the legal age here is 19, so YMMV.

Set some boundaries. You have to live with these ladies. Tell them you won't be buying them booze and address problems as they arise. But take it from this former underage drinker, you need to relax. You might make six awesome friends this year.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:53 PM on August 25, 2009


again, you need to talk to campus legal counsel. you're getting some uninformed, if not truly terrible advice in here.

you are the only one over 21 that lives there. they drink. they throw parties. if the cops show up, why would they believe you've been in your room all night? why would they believe that you didn't buy the booze? they could very easily see it as you hosting the party, as you're the only one legally old enough to drink. a lawyer who practices in oregon, in the county you live in, would know how you can protect yourself and just how much danger you're putting yourself in. don't rest your future on the "i'm underage and we drink all the time and the cops don't care" advice.
posted by nadawi at 2:08 PM on August 25, 2009


After reading the thread a little more carefully, I want to ask - do you have a landlord you can talk to? Can you get together with your roommates and tell them what you've told us?

I take it moving is not an option for you at this time.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:16 PM on August 25, 2009


In college I got in trouble for underage consumption. I never drink; my suitemates did. When the suite was busted we were sent a blanket accusation. My mates had the morality and ethics to spell out to the authorities that I was totally in the clear. It's up to you to decide whether your mates will be just as honest if something happens to you.
posted by spamguy at 2:21 PM on August 25, 2009


if the cops show up, why would they believe you've been in your room all night?

If they show up and it's one of their underage daughters passed out on the floor, things could get really ugly. It's happened.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:41 PM on August 25, 2009


I know it sucks having to be the party-pooper, but seriously do your best to try to cut down on the amount of illegal partying going on in the living situation you share with these underage girls. If caught, it very likely could be seen as your responsibility. Just last night, for example, I spent at least twenty minutes trying to round up a group of underage people and lead them away from a party that was forming in the apartment of my good friend. Once the alcohol was flowing, they could not stay simply because it was our asses on the line if they were discovered, even though we weren't doing anything that was illegal for us. So, I rounded them up and I lead them away, like I was a sheepdog and they were sheep. Just a typical Monday night on the campus of a well respected liberal arts college in the United States of America. When under-agers are found near alcohol, it is simply assumed to be the fault of the of-agers present. All of them. Whether you are hosting the party yourself or not, whether you live in the building or not, whether you yourself consumed alcohol or not. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Or, what nadawi said.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 3:51 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Teachers can lose jobs because of facebook photos that show them drinking, even when of age. It just seems like too big a risk and hassle to me.
How awesome is this house? It would have to be something pretty special to make the risk, and the stress, worth it.

Besides, even if you are OK criminally, if a party does go too far some evening whose to say you won't have to deal with a civil case? If a teenage kid gets seriously hurt or worse at a drunken college party the first thing any lawyer hired by their parents will do is think "hmmm, there was someone of legal age living there..."
Sure, if you don't participate and don't buy for them you'll be fine, but you may end up spending money you don't have on a lawyer to clear yourself first.
posted by Kellydamnit at 3:54 PM on August 25, 2009


I was living in a house with two roommates, and left for Halloween weekend to go to a convention - they threw a party in my absence. An unwatched candle fell over and started a fire that severely damaged the house. No one was hurt, but a lot of belongings and the house itself were trashed.

When I got back, the first things my roommates said to me were "Don't worry, you weren't home, this is not your fault, we've got your back." When the lawsuit from the insurance company came in, the roommates dragged me into it, stating that I was just as responsible as them, since my name was on the lease. (I'd broken off relations with them for obvious reasons at that point - they were trying to get me to pay for their defense since I was the only one with money at the time.)

The two lessons I took away from this incident were that 1) When someone attempts to sue or otherwise prosecute, they will often look for the biggest / easiest target that they can. In my case, I had more money than my roommates, so the lawsuit included me. If you're over 21, that is likely to be you, since you are in the house, and of legal age. 2) Roommates that you think you trust now will throw you under the bus when push comes to shove. I would have sworn that those two guys would have stood up for me, because it would cost them nothing to do so, and it was the right thing to do - instead, they pulled me into the mess to try and get a free ride back out of it.

I'm sorry to be such a pessimist on this matter, but it was an expensive life lesson for me. Make sure you set CLEAR boundaries with your roommates, and if they cross those boundaries, protect yourself from them in any way you can.
posted by GJSchaller at 8:34 PM on August 25, 2009


IANALY, so I can't give you legal advice, but this situation isn't murky in Oregon law; it's specifically addressed in a statute, which Onshi mentioned. I'll provide the full text for you, and I think you'll find the answers to your own questions (as Nadawi said, I think you'll see some of the foregoing answers are waaaaay off).

Here is the full text of that statute, ORS § 471.410 subsection 3, as it appeared in the 2007 edition of the Oregon Revised Statutes (Oregon's laws):

(3) No person who exercises control over private real property may knowingly allow any other person under the age of 21 years who is not a child or minor ward of the person to consume alcoholic liquor on the property, or allow any other person under the age of 21 years who is not a child or minor ward of the person to remain on the property if the person under the age of 21 years consumes alcoholic liquor on the property. The prohibitions of this subsection apply only to a person who is present and in control of the location at the time the consumption occurs. The prohibitions of this subsection do not apply to the owner of rental property, or the agent of an owner of rental property, unless the consumption occurs in the individual unit in which the owner or agent resides.

The emphasis there (the bold text) is mine.

In the same statute, subsection 7 addresses punishment for violation of subsection 3:

(7) A person who violates subsection (3) of this section commits a violation. Upon violation of subsection (3) of this section, the court shall impose at least a mandatory minimum fine as follows:

(a) Upon a first conviction, a fine of $ 350.

(b) Upon a second or subsequent conviction, a fine of $ 1,000
.

In 2009, the Oregon State Legislature amended ORS § 471.410.

From Oregon House Bill 3343, which passed and will be effective January 1, 2010:

(3)(a) A person who exercises control over private real property may not knowingly allow any other person under the age of 21 years who is not a child or minor ward of the person to consume alcoholic liquor on the property, or allow any other person under the age of 21 years who is not a child or minor ward of the person to remain on the property if the person under the age of 21 years consumes alcoholic liquor on the property.

(b) This subsection:

(A) Applies only to a person who is present and in control of the location at the time the consumption occurs;

(B) Does not apply to the owner of rental property, or the agent of an owner of rental property, unless the consumption occurs in the individual unit in which the owner or agent resides; and

(C) Does not apply to a person who exercises control over a private residence if the liquor consumed by the person under the age of 21 years is supplied only by an accompanying parent or guardian.


If it were me, I'd talk to a lawyer about whether I could get my lease amended so that I would only have "control" over my own bedroom, or how to get out of my lease altogether, given the circumstances. I wouldn't want to have to be constantly fleeing out of my house anytime a roommate with alcohol was headed home.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:24 PM on August 25, 2009


Preface: your questions here are assuming some sort of objective reality of law - drop that assumption. Its easy to get in trouble with the cops, depending on your social, cultural, and racial condition.

My question: If I am not intoxicated, have not purchased any alcohol, and am not participating in any of the parties, can I still be held legally accountable if I am studying in my room if the police come?

Yeah, of course. You could be legally accountable depending on the charges the police decide are appropriate when they arrive at this crazy ass party. Public intoxication? You wouldn't get that. Endangering minors? Maybe. Public nuisance? Probably. Who the hell knows, talk to the cops that show up.

I really don't know what to do and I am certain that these girls will have parties. Would the police be understanding if I explained my situation?

No, absolutely not. Well, probably not. Here's the thing, cops are people just like you, except that they decided to be COPS when they grew up. That's creepy. I wouldn't think you ought to assume cops will be understanding.

Is there an appeal process if I were to be charged with anything? Thank you for any and all information!


Of course there is an appeal process, this is America dammit.

Move out, you sound too stressed by the situation. Find some roommates that are holding parties that risk police intervention.
posted by RajahKing at 10:01 PM on August 25, 2009


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