February 18, 2013

2013 Press Herald file/Gordon Chibroski

Barry and Paula Spencer, who were charged with letting minors drink at their home, talk to the press outside the Cumberland County Courthouse on Feb. 7 after the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case.

Our View: All parents can learn from teen party trial

Observers were disappointed if they were looking for a clear winner in the state's case against a Falmouth couple accused of letting teenagers drink at a party on their property. But even though there was no verdict, there were plenty of lessons offered to anyone who was willing to learn.

Barry and Paula Spencer were charged with furnishing alcohol to minors after a party broken up by the Falmouth police last June.

The jury came back hopelessly deadlocked. The Spencers said they were relieved, but they hardly got off easy. They agreed to do 100 hours of community service and pay restitution. Going through the inconvenience and expense of a public trial, even if it didn't end in a criminal conviction, is a heavy price to pay, and few parents would want to have been in their shoes.

The lesson parents should draw from this episode is that it is better to be careful than popular. It might seem like fun to open your doors to all of your children's friends, but that means being responsible for the decisions made by children who you may not even know. And while teenagers are not known for the best decision-making at any time, it's even worse when they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

As bad as things were at the Spencers', it could have been much worse. Underage drinkers are at high risk of alcohol poisoning, drunken driving, homicide, suicide and drowning. A high-profile trial may be embarrassing, but it's much easier to live with than hosting a party at which someone's child was raped, maimed or killed.

The jury's non-verdict shows how complicated it is to try to control the behavior of young people on the cusp of adulthood. They often can seem ready for more responsibility than they can handle. It's very unusual for a case like this to go to trial, but very valuable for the community to take a hard look at these issues. That happened in this case, so even without a verdict, justice was served.

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