On the Friday after Thanksgiving, Stanford Professor Bill Burnett and his wife Cynthia hosted a party for their son and his friends, 16 and 17-year-olds, to celebrate a football win. They bought chips and soda, but were clear about one rule: no alcohol allowed.
At 11:00, the police knocked on their door -- while Bill Burnett was making brownies -- because of an anonymous complaint and speculation of underage drinking. Though the Burnetts insisted that there was no drinking, the police found alcohol that, they say, the teens snuck in.
"They put me in handcuffs, put me in cruiser where they took me a police station and arrested me," Bill Burnett told the "Today" show this morning. He was charged with 44 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor -- one for each teen at the party.
Cynthia Burnett said that, in hindsight, there is nothing else they could have done to prevent the incident. "You don't want to be sitting downstairs in the middle of your kids' party -- that's not reasonable," she told "Today."
And if the police hadn't broken up the party, the Burnetts did plan to check with each kid as they left the party. They were certain that nobody at the party could have left and driven if they had been drinking.
Because of social host laws, parents are liable when underage kids drink on their property -- even if they're unaware that it's happening. Legally, the police acted correctly, Star Jones, attorney and former prosecutor told Matt Lauer. But they "may not have used the best sort of community-based policing judgment," she added.
The debate of whether parents should be punished when teens secretly drink in their home is certainly not a new one. Just last year, a Harvard professor and his wife were arrested when their daughter's friends were caught drinking at her high school graduation party.
Cynthia Burnett says the answer is to talk more about underage drinking. "The adults in the community, parents, law enforcement officials, city officials and the teens themselves need to have a dialogue about how to create a safe environment for kids to be, for teens to be teens," she told Lauer.
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