Two Massachusetts Teachers Sentenced to Jail for Hosting Underage Drinking Party

According to the Boston Globe, a husband and wife who both work as teachers in Massachusetts public schools have been sentenced to serve 30 days in jail following their convictions for furnishing alcohol to a minor. 

John Penza teaches at Everett High School and his wife, Josephine Penza, is a teacher at a Medford elementary school.  In August of 2013, their two children (both in their late teens) invited people to their Saugus home for a party.  When the police responded to a noise complaint later in the evening, there were approximately 70 underage drinkers.  A 16-year-old girl was so drunk that she was taken to the hospital for treatment.  The Commonwealth alleged that Josephine told the girl to tell the police she was suffering from food poisoning.  The police also found many empty alcohol containers and a table that had been set up for the playing of a drinking game.

The Penzas went to trial in Peabody District Court earlier this month and a jury convicted them of furnishing alcohol to a minor.  The judge sentenced each of them to nine months in jail, with 30 days to be served and the balance to be suspended for two years.  During those two years, the Penzas will be on probation.  They will be required to remain free from drugs and alcohol and they were ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.

The Daily Item of Lynn previously reported that the defendants sought to have their cases dismissed prior to their arraignments.  They claimed many uninvited people, including the girl who later had to be transported to the hospital, showed up at their home and they were unable to control the party that quickly materialized.  Before their arraignment, the defendants participated in a family support group for seven months in an effort to avoid prosecution.  Their attorney insisted there was insufficient evidence to establish they knowingly provided alcohol to minors or permitted alcohol to be consumed by minors at their home.

The Essex District Attorney said he hoped the defendants’ convictions and sentences would send a message to other parents considering allowing underage individuals to drink in their homes.  The Massachusetts law regarding furnishing alcohol to minors criminalizes providing alcohol to a minor or allowing a minor to possess alcohol on his property.  Therefore, if the evidence establishes parents should know that minors are drinking somewhere on their property, the parents cannot hide in their bedroom and play dumb when the cops show up.  While the convictions in this case are not particularly surprising, the sentences are.  These types of cases almost never result in jail sentences, particularly when it appears nobody was seriously hurt as a result of the party.  It seems the judge, like the district attorney, wanted to send a clear message that parents who host parties where minors are drinking alcohol will be severely punished.

In addition to criminal penalties, hosting parties with underage drinking exposes homeowners to potential civil liability.  If an underage drinker leaves the party and hurts someone, the injured party can then sue the homeowner.