The police Breathalyzer-tested underage partygoers who were trying to leave, and before the night was over the Spencers had been summoned for furnishing a place for minors to consume alcohol. Police noted that they could have arrested the Spencers on the spot but agreed that since many of the teenagers were sleeping over it would be detrimental to remove them from the home.
Laws targeting parents who knowingly or unknowingly allow drinking to occur in their homes have popped up all over the country. Furnishing alcohol to minors is illegal in all 50 states, but it can be difficult to prove who actually bought the booze. In response to this challenge, 28 states have adopted "social hosting" laws, which impose criminal penalties on the host of a party where underage drinking occurs. That number is up from 18 states in 2005.
The Spencers went to trial last February, and Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson was determined to have them serve time.
"The people responsible for making sure that drinking didn't go on at that party were Paula and Barry Spencer, and they did not take appropriate steps to prevent it," Anderson says.
But Anderson could not get the whole jury to agree with her. The case ended in a mistrial, with the jury split right down the middle. Rather than retry the Spencers, Anderson offered them a deal. They would not serve jail time but would pay $17,000 in fines and restitution, write a letter of apology for the local newspaper and serve 100 hours of community service each. The Spencers took the deal.
"We did not intend for kids to drink. It happened, and I'm sorry that it happened," Paula Spencer said. Although the reaction from the community and local media has been harsh over the past year, the Spencers decided to tell their story so that other parents could learn from their mistake.
As for having another party, the Spencers said that next time, they would ask a parent or two to stick around.