Student Organization's Alcohol Concerns
This section outlines various laws governing the sale, distribution, and consumption of alcoholic beverages and the criminal and civil liability that concerns student organizations.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled that a commercial host, one who sells liquor, has a duty to not serve intoxicated persons. Serving an intoxicated person can result in the commercial host paying money or damages to someone harmed by the intoxicated person. Anyone selling liquor takes on this liability. Even if a student organization purchases a Daily Temporary Mixed Beverage Permit, the organization, its national office, members, officers, advisors and possibly Texas Tech can be held liable to an injured party for money damages in a court of law. The injured party must prove in court that the organization served the intoxicated person, and that the intoxication is a direct cause of the accident.
In Texas, non-commercial hosts, those who do not sell alcohol but provide it, are liable under law if they serve alcohol to minors. A minor, under these circumstances, is someone who is 18-years old or younger. At this time, social hosts are not liable for adults (*including 19 and 20-year olds; 19 and 20 - year olds are under the legal drinking age, but are held liable for themselves in a court of law, and are charged as adults); however, the law is controversial (other states hold the host liable) and may change at any time.
To Avoid Civil Liability
To protect the members and the organization, alcoholic beverage consumption must be controlled at all events, public or private. Do not continue to serve an intoxicated person. Civil liability is not avoided by allowing everyone to help him/herself. Providing the alcoholic beverage is serving under law. If, despite the best efforts, someone does become intoxicated and decides to leave the event, prevent the person from driving. Even if the host has refused to serve that person, even if he or she came to the event already drunk, the person should not drive. If a person drives, a lawsuit is possible.
Unlike civil liability, where the penalty is money damages, the penalty for violating criminal laws is a fine and/or jail time and a criminal record for the individual charged. Student organizations should be concerned about the following areas:
- It is a crime for a person under the age of 21 years to purchase, consume or possess an alcoholic beverage in public or private unless in the presence of a parent or spouse over the age of 21.
Punishment: 1st offense: Fines, Alcohol Awareness Course, 8-12 hours community service, 30 days Texas driver's license suspension or denied issuance of license. 2nd offense: Fines, Alcohol Awareness Course, 20-40 hours community service, 60 days Texas driver's license suspension or denied issuance of license. 3rd offense: 180 days Texas driver's license suspension or denial of administrative license revocation, juvenile court with supervision or tried as an adult in Criminal Court.
- It is a crime to provide an alcoholic beverage to someone under the age of 21 unless it is the parent or adult spouse of that person. The operative word is provide. Selling or serving is not required.
Punishment: Fines, up to 180 days of jail time, or both. This gives you a permanent criminal record; unlike the minor, the adult cannot have the conviction erased.
- At a private party, the host is responsible for ascertaining the age of the guests drinking. At a student organization sponsored party, the hosts are the officers of the sponsoring organization. If the party is raided, those officers, advisors and bartenders can be arrested and charged with making alcoholic beverages available to minors.
- Tactics that do not avoid liability
- Posting signs that only individuals 21 and over may drink, and then not checking identification to enforce the signs.
- Having no bartenders so that no one serves, but each person gets his/her own drink.
- Providing nonalcoholic beverages and food in addition to alcoholic beverages.
B.Y.O.B. -- Bring Your Own Bottle
As the law now stands, a host would appear to have no legal responsibility to prevent drinking by people under age 21, at a private party, where the host provides no alcoholic beverages, but each guest brings his or her own drinks. Each person bringing an alcoholic beverage, and pooling it on one big table for everyone to help him or herself, is not considered B.Y.O.B. The student organization that uses B.Y.O.B. should clearly adopt a policy of the organization and rigidly enforce it. Providing food should be acceptable and not invalidate the B.Y.O.B. aspect. A designated driver policy would also help avoid liability.
Charging For Alcohol
It is illegal to sell liquor or beer without a license or permit. The following ways of collecting money are not legal:
- Selling drinks directly
- Taking up a collection at the party to defray the cost of beer
Tactics that do not Avoid Liability
- Selling tickets to be exchanged for drinks
- Charging a flat fee for all you can drink.
- Charging an administration fee, when the principle expense of the party is alcoholic beverages. It does not matter that food is also being served
It is legal to
- Regularly assess organization members a party fee or set aside part of the regular dues for parties
- Have a fund-raising event and direct that the proceeds go into a party fund
Daily Temporary Mixed Beverage Permits
Texas law now allows a fraternal organization in existence for more than five years with a regular membership to apply for a permit that allows that organization to sell alcoholic beverages for one day. The fee is $50 and only two can be issued per year to the same organization. Permits are purchased from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. If the group is granted the permit, the organization still runs the risk of civil liability.
Although the organization loses the profits from alcohol sales, the group also loses most criminal and civil liability. The duty to check identification shifts to the licensed caterer.
In Texas, this means transporting alcoholic beverages into a "dry" area with intent to sell them. If you are transporting more than one quart of liquor, 24 12-ounce bottles of beer or the equivalent of 228 ounces into a dry area, the legal presumption is that you intend to sell it. An eight gallon keg contains 1024 ounces, and parts of Lubbock County are dry.
Punishment: minimum $100 fine or confinement in county jail for up to 12 months or both.