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Social Hosts and Dram Shop Liability in Wisconsin

Posted on in Criminal Defense

serving alcohol to minors, Wisconsin defense attorneySocial hosts and dram shop owners are two groups of people who often end up bearing responsibility for the intoxicated actions of others. Social hosts are people who have others over to their home or otherwise throw a party and end up getting other people dangerously drunk. Dram shop is an outdated term for bars and other establishments that serve liquor. Many states have laws that hold social hosts or dram shops accountable for the damage done by the people that they served alcohol to. Ordinarily, Wisconsin law provides immunity for people who provided alcohol to others. However, there is an important exception to that immunity: serving alcohol to minors. Social hosts or bars who provide alcohol for underage drinkers may end up facing both criminal penalties and civil liability for their actions.

Criminal Penalties

For starters, people who provide alcohol to minors are subject to Wisconsin Statute §§ 125.07 and 125.075. These sections make it illegal for someone to provide alcohol to a minor. If a person does provide alcohol to a minor, then the statute mandates a fine based on the number of previous violations in the past 30 months. The fines start out at a maximum fine of $500 for one violation, and can increase to as much as $10,000 for a fourth violation. Alternatively, multiple violations may make a person eligible for up to nine months in prison.

The statutes also make a separate crime for knowingly providing alcohol to a minor if that minor then suffers death or great bodily harm as a result. That crime is considerably more serious, and comes with more serious penalties: up to a $10,000 fine and seven years and six months in prison. However, the person cannot be convicted of the crime if the minor (1) lies about his or her age, (2) provides documentation to back up the lie, (3) looks like he or she is of legal drinking age, and (4) actually convinces the defendant that he or she was of legal age.

Civil Liability

Social hosts and dram shops may also be held civilly responsible for damage done by underage drinkers that they serve. Wisconsin law ordinarily immunizes alcohol providers from any damage done by their customers once they leave, but there is an exception to that immunity if the provider knew or should have known that the person they were serving was underage. In determining whether the server knew or should have known the person's age, jurors are allowed to consider the circumstances surrounding the event, and the same four-part safe harbor from above also applies.

The fines and liability for serving alcohol to minors can quickly begin to add up. If you are facing such accusations, contact an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney today.

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