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Underage Drinking Is Legal With Parent Present

November 11, 2010, 4:58 PM by Katie Janssen

Underage Drinking Is Legal With Parent Present
CANTON, SD - The pressures for KELOLAND kids to drink are enormous, and some parents say it's better to be realistic than sorry.  A growing number have chosen to slowly introduce alcohol to their underage children, and it turns out, the law is on their side.

In South Dakota, it's perfectly legal for anyone under 21 to consume alcohol as long as a parent is around. The statute says minors may consume alcohol in the immediate presence of a parent, guardian or spouse, as long as that person is of age.

"Whether it be a glass of wine at a Christmas dinner or Thanksgiving dinner, the state feels that's an appropriate level of supervision," Lincoln County State's Attorney Tom Wollman said.

The law differentiates between kids under 18 and adults 18 to 21.

"Eighteen and below can drink at home in the immediate presence of a parent," Wollman said.

Those 18 and above can drink at a bar or restaurant with a parent, as long as the establishment's owner approves.

Wollman has seen several cases where parents try to use the law as a defense in court, saying their child was with them when they were drinking.

"Unfortunately, we've seen parents coming in after the fact where that really wasn't the case, but they're just trying to get their son or daughter out of trouble," Wollman said.

But Wollman says it's a move that's difficult to defend because once a minor leaves the presence of their parents when they've been drinking, all bets are off.

"A parent may have been in the immediate presence of the child when the child drank alcohol, but then the child goes to the school dance; that's not a legal defense," Wollman said.

Wollman says the law basically says parents have the final word on whether to let their kids consume alcohol in a controlled environment.

"I think parents would like to think their kids are responsible enough and sometimes they are, but I stress that the statute says, 'In the immediate presence of parents,'" Wollman said.

It may be legal to allow minors to drink under supervision, but is it right? It's a discussion you won't want to miss, in Thursday’s Eye on KELOLAND at 10.

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