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January 4, 2012

Will deterrence be well-served by jailing of "house party mom"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable local story from Florida, which is headlined "House party mom loses appeal, jailed; Santarelli sentenced to 364 days in jail."   Here are the details:

A St. Johns woman who appealed her conviction for allowing minors to attend an open house party that resulted in the deaths of two participants was in the St. Johns County jail on Tuesday after the Florida State Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal.

Diane Katz Santarelli, now 54, was sentenced on July 5, 2010, but remained free pending the appeal.  Her freedom ended Tuesday afternoon.  “Bond was revoked and she turned herself in … to begin serving a 364-day sentence,” said St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Kevin Kelshaw.

State Attorney R.J. Larizza said the 364-day sentence wouldn’t bring back the two teenagers, but it might “deter other adults from engaging in such potentially deadly activities.”

A jury found Santarelli guilty of hosting an open house party and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  The contribution to a delinquency charge is a first-degree misdemeanor and the hosting an open house party is a second-degree misdemeanor.

When the late Senior Circuit Judge Richard O. Watson sentenced Santarelli to the maximum on both counts in 2010, he called her conduct “probably the egregious case of contributing to the delinquency of a minor that I have had experience with in my 50 years as a lawyer — and as a judge, public defender and prosecutor.”  Watson released Santarelli on her own recognizance, pending her appeal of a case in which “some sticky legal issues” were involved.

The misdemeanor trial came after Santarelli was found not guilty on two counts of manslaughter for the deaths of Jessy Calvin Pitts, 19, and Taylor Rae Brennan, 17.  The two died in an auto crash on State Road 13 the night of Jan. 11, 2009, shortly after leaving a party at Santarelli’s home.

She was the first person in Florida to be charged with manslaughter for hosting a house party that resulted in the death of a minor.  “Santarelli’s prosecution was the first of its kind in Florida,” Larizza said. “Underage drinking has deadly consequences and we must hold adults accountable that encourage and provide alcohol and/or drugs to our children.”

This seems like the kind of criminal activity that can be reasonably impacted by criminal prosecutions and tough sentencing.  Of course, we all hope that parents will do their best to keep kids safe without criminal justice threats.  But having the kicker of criminal consequences after something goes terribly wrong perhaps can help encourage adults to work that much harder to keep teenagers that much safer in these sorts of party settings.

January 4, 2012 at 10:47 AM | Permalink


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If you are going to start jailing parents, maybe they should prosecute and jail the parents of the deceased. After all, the parents of the deceased let their kids loose in cars without supervision... seriously.

Actually, I don't think that criminal penalties will make any difference. If things like this happen, the tort bar is ready to help. Back before the nanny state, the disappearance of the concept of mens rea, subsequent criminal penalties for every possible wrong, and the creation of the prison industrial complex; one usually sought remedy for wrongful death in the civil courts.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jan 4, 2012 7:46:32 PM

The case was not about a child becoming impaired, unknown to her/his parents -- it's about a parent hosting a party with alcoholic beverages AND allowing your and my youngster to consume to a level of impairment.

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady | Jan 5, 2012 8:16:47 AM

Pitts, one of the deceased, stopped living with his parents when he was eighteen. I imagine that the lack of supervision, for two years, was a significant factor in his delinquency, more significant than the party mom. I don't know why the the other deceased, Brennan was in the auto with him. Maybe she was a girlfriend. These tragedies don't occur out of nowhere. They are the result of a long sequence of bad decisions on the part of parent and child. Yet, somehow society wants to blame Santarelli. I blame Santarelli, but only partly, but most of the blame goes to the parents or guardian of these kids. The problem with villifying Santarelli and going after her is that it lets the parents off the hook.

Still, my position is not to waste the peoples time with prosecuting these things. You eliminate this party mom and the same unsupervised kids will go get in trouble somewhere else. Let the affected parties hash it out in civil court. A jury in a civil proceeding can hear the case of the parents and they will also be given a chance to hear where the parents screwed up themselves.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jan 5, 2012 9:59:05 AM

"The problem with villifying Santarelli and going after her is that it lets the parents off the hook."

Jardinero1, targeting one instead of all reflects the extent of the law in this case. Providing or entertaining the dispersal of alcohol to minors and underage drinkers has been illegal in my state since the 80s if not earlier.

If you've an idea of how to coerce the parents into better supervision, pray tell. Letting everyone off the hook, however, emboldens like behaviour.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 5, 2012 10:53:43 AM

Santarelli was convicted of two crimes: hosting an open house party and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

I would say that she had only the tiniest impact on the delinquency of the minors in question. Open house party laws are ridiculous on their face since they do absolutely nothing to prevent minors from drinking and driving. In fact, they may induce more minors to drink in their autos since they discourage drinking in the home with adults supervising.

I don't propose coercing parents into doing anything. Being a bad parent is its own reward. Again, if the parents of the deceased feel Santarelli is responsible for their loss, they should sue her. Jailing Santarelli will not mitigate their loss. Jailing Santarelli will decrease their chances of financial recovery if she has disposed of all her assets defending herself from the criminal charges and sits in jail without a job.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jan 5, 2012 12:16:52 PM

"Jailing Santarelli will decrease their chances of financial recovery..."

How did the parents lose any money?

What Santarelli did was criminal, not financial.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 5, 2012 1:36:32 PM

Again, if the parents of the deceased feel Santarelli is responsible for their loss, they should sue her. There is a pretty good civil case to be had for the parents of the deceased for the wrongful death of their children as Santarelli's actions were a contributing factor.

If Santarelli contributed to the delinquency of these minors, then so too did the parents one hundred times over and if the State pursues a criminal case against Santarelli then so too should the state against the parents.

Personally, I don't think the state should waste the taxpayers money on these kinds of matters because there is no justice served in so doing.

House party laws are singularly worthless because House party laws do not prevent the cause of the minors's death, a car crash. House party laws do not even deter the proximate cause of the crash, drunken driving. House party laws do not even prevent the proximate to the proximate cause, as the youth likely would have obtained alcohol and drugs elsewhere and still driven.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jan 5, 2012 2:19:14 PM

This is political grandstanding and scapegoating. The modern view of catastrophe is that multiple factors cluster, and the subtraction of any one of them prevents the entire tragedy. Factors may include car and road design, weather, relationship problems, on average a dozen factors.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 6, 2012 2:11:41 AM

Criminal law has a proper role to play in creating accountability for irresponsible and reckless behavior that is known in advance to increase the likelihood of a lethal outcome.

The fact that civil remedies are also possible does not eliminate society's interest in deterring this sort of conduct.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 6, 2012 7:04:41 AM

I would like to see the dumbass defense start to use the defense of outcome bias, a violation of the defendants' procedural due process right to a fair trial. Had they made it home, her conduct would not have been charged. Her charges stem from an improper motive to find a scapegoat and is politically motivated. This assertion may be supported by the content of the work and personal computers of the prosecutors and judge in e-discovery. Because the government is the biggest down loader of child porn, any found in discovery should also be referred to the FBI for investigation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 6, 2012 8:55:14 AM


Criminal law has a proper role to play when the harm done stems from a mens rea intent to harm.

Everyone, including you Bill, is irresponsible and wreckless at times. It was irresponsible and wreckless of Pitt's parents to abandon him at the age of sixteen. He would certainly be alive today if they had kept him with them when they moved to Atlanta. Do you think that Pitt's parents should be jailed for contributing to his delinquency as well? The wreckless abandonment of him was a greater causal factor leading to his death than the House Party Mom.

I don't want my tax dollars spent prosecuting and punishing every irresponsible and wreckless behavior. Irresponsibility and recklessness, are better left to the civil courts.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jan 6, 2012 11:14:31 AM

Toxic adults are poisoning are children. The laws need to change with the times. Legal age adults and parents are allowing and providing our youth drugs and alcohol which is wrong. It is finally time that some of these adults spend time in jail, maybe it will scare enough adults that they will not provide the alcohol to our youth. Stronger laws are yet to come and if I can assist with them I will. It should be a felony if an adult has provided the alcohol and place and consent and someone under the drinking age gets hurt or dies.

Posted by: Laura | Jan 18, 2012 7:24:46 PM

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