News

Burnetts won't face charges for underage drinking

District attorney declines to prosecute Menlo Park parents

Two parents won't be prosecuted for alleged underage drinking at a party held in their Menlo Park home on Nov. 25, the San Mateo County district attorney's office said Wednesday.

San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato explained that six months of investigation failed to provide sufficient evidence that the parents committed a crime in connection with the underage drinking.

"The question was, could we establish that they were furnishing alcohol to minors? And we were unable to establish that. Next the question becomes whether it amounts to contributing to the delinquency of minors in terms of whether they knew alcohol was there or were criminally negligent," Mr. Serrato said on May 16. "(The drinking) didn't devolve into anything further, no vandalism or drunk driving. At the end of the day we gave it a real good look and it just didn't amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

The case drew national attention. The parents, William and Cynthia Burnett, told reporters that they did not provide alcohol during the party and had made it clear drinking wasn't allowed. No alcohol was spotted during their patrols of the party, according to the couple. Their teenage son was celebrating a Menlo-Atherton High School football game victory with a crowd of friends that grew to about 44 people, according to the district attorney.

After receiving an anonymous phone call complaining that underage drinking might be going on, Menlo Park police broke up the party and arrested Mr. Burnett, a Stanford University assistant professor in mechanical engineering and the executive director of the university's Institute of Design. His wife also faced charges, but wasn't arrested due to a medical condition.

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The couple's 21-year-old daughter raised allegations of inappropriate police conduct following the arrest. Mr. Serrato said the family was free to dislike the way the officers approached it, but that nothing he saw caused any particular concern. "Our role isn't to second-guess the manner in which officers are doing things. My view is that they were doing the best they could in a difficult situation with a lot of kids who had been drinking."

Neither Mr. Burnett nor his defense attorney, Jeffrey Hayden, was immediately available for comment.

As of January 2011, "social host" laws in California allow parents or other adults to be prosecuted for knowingly letting minors drink on their property. "Parents think they're providing a safe environment for young people, but those young people have to go home, they can be drunk driving, they get sick," Mr. Serrato commented. "Many times the parents of the other kids don't know what's happening. It's just an extremely dangerous thing."

Almanac reporter Dave Boyce contributed to this report.

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Burnetts won't face charges for underage drinking

District attorney declines to prosecute Menlo Park parents

by Sandy Brundage / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, May 16, 2012, 5:45 pm
Updated: Thu, May 17, 2012, 11:54 am

Two parents won't be prosecuted for alleged underage drinking at a party held in their Menlo Park home on Nov. 25, the San Mateo County district attorney's office said Wednesday.

San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato explained that six months of investigation failed to provide sufficient evidence that the parents committed a crime in connection with the underage drinking.

"The question was, could we establish that they were furnishing alcohol to minors? And we were unable to establish that. Next the question becomes whether it amounts to contributing to the delinquency of minors in terms of whether they knew alcohol was there or were criminally negligent," Mr. Serrato said on May 16. "(The drinking) didn't devolve into anything further, no vandalism or drunk driving. At the end of the day we gave it a real good look and it just didn't amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

The case drew national attention. The parents, William and Cynthia Burnett, told reporters that they did not provide alcohol during the party and had made it clear drinking wasn't allowed. No alcohol was spotted during their patrols of the party, according to the couple. Their teenage son was celebrating a Menlo-Atherton High School football game victory with a crowd of friends that grew to about 44 people, according to the district attorney.

After receiving an anonymous phone call complaining that underage drinking might be going on, Menlo Park police broke up the party and arrested Mr. Burnett, a Stanford University assistant professor in mechanical engineering and the executive director of the university's Institute of Design. His wife also faced charges, but wasn't arrested due to a medical condition.

The couple's 21-year-old daughter raised allegations of inappropriate police conduct following the arrest. Mr. Serrato said the family was free to dislike the way the officers approached it, but that nothing he saw caused any particular concern. "Our role isn't to second-guess the manner in which officers are doing things. My view is that they were doing the best they could in a difficult situation with a lot of kids who had been drinking."

Neither Mr. Burnett nor his defense attorney, Jeffrey Hayden, was immediately available for comment.

As of January 2011, "social host" laws in California allow parents or other adults to be prosecuted for knowingly letting minors drink on their property. "Parents think they're providing a safe environment for young people, but those young people have to go home, they can be drunk driving, they get sick," Mr. Serrato commented. "Many times the parents of the other kids don't know what's happening. It's just an extremely dangerous thing."

Almanac reporter Dave Boyce contributed to this report.

Comments

Parent
Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 16, 2012 at 9:46 pm
Parent, Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 16, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I find it disappointing that this couple was let off. They took away the keys of the kids - what more evidence does the DA need to establish that the parents knew of the drinking? Can the Almanac follow up with the DA and ask about the car keys?

I guess a huge thank you to Stanford from the professor is in order, as I suppose as his employer, they had some pull in this.

The prosecutor stated "[The drinking didn't devolve into anything further, no vandalism or drunk driving. At the end of the day we gave it a real good look and it just didn't amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt." SO, since an accident didn't happen it's okay to allow the drinking? The San Mateo DA's office will only prosecute if there's a drunk driving accident, at which point it's too late. Get a back bone SMC.


Disgraceful.


mom x 4
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm
mom x 4, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Horrible that this family had to be subjected to the 2011 equivalent of a witch hunt. I am glad that reason prevailed.

Despite the dismissal of charges, one sad result of this fiasco is that responsible parents of teens will be less likely to volunteer to host parties in their homes. So any teens who are inclined to misbehave will no doubt find a place to hang out where there is no adult supervision. I hope the hanging judges on this board are okay with that as a consequence.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder how much public money was wasted on this travesty.


rich white parents
Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 16, 2012 at 11:40 pm
rich white parents, Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 16, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Rich white parents = no charges
Poor minority parents = what do you think?


Hmmm
another community
on May 16, 2012 at 11:46 pm
Hmmm, another community
on May 16, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Mom x 4 - you said it very well. Tempest in teapot.


willows neighbor
Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 17, 2012 at 10:40 am
willows neighbor, Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 17, 2012 at 10:40 am

What a waste of time and money. At least sanity and reason prevailed... finally.

Oh, BTW, Mr. Ass't DA, "Our role isn't to second-guess the manner in which officers are doing things. My view is that they were doing the best they could in a difficult situation with a lot of kids who had been drinking." Really? Shouldn't that be "allegedly been drinking"? If it were so certain, presumably you wouldn't have dropped the charges. Just sayin'


Responsible Parent
Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on May 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm
Responsible Parent, Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on May 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Mom x 4:

There was no trial, which means there was no hanging judge or even a jury. That's the travesty - the ADA has all the power on deciding whether or not to prosecute. IF, the Burnetts had been hispanic or african-american, this would have been prosecuted -- another travesty.

The Burnetts enabled illegal and dangerous behavior. Mom x 4, our community will be well served if you don't do the same for your 4 children and their friends.

Have you seen the ads in the New York Times and the WSJ about enabling teen drinking by having the kids party at home?


stop the madness
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm
stop the madness, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm

"San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato explained that six months of investigation failed to provide sufficient evidence that the parents committed a crime in connection with the underage drinking."

As so aptly stated by others, what a wonderful use of our tax dollars and judicial resources.

In 2 years or less, depending upon the age of kids involved, many will have ready access to hard alcohol and all of its attendant consequences with nothing older than an intoxicated 23yo (often in the best case) around to manage issues.

Wealth and race have nothing to do with this beyond maybe providing them access to resources that allowed reason to prevail.


Mom x 4
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm
Mom x 4, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Of course there was no trial because there was no actionable evidence. The "hanging judges" are the holier-than-thou posters on this board who have anointed themselves as community arbiters.

Those of you claiming that this is a racist issue: can you point to a single local case in which a Latino or African-American parent was faced with a similar accusation? I thought not. However, if you are asserting that white neighbors tend to be busybodies who get a charge out of seeing their neighbors get arrested whereas Latinos and African-Americans prefer to be helpful rather than rabble-rousing, well, that may be correct.

When this topic originally arose, I wondered if M-A staff and administration would also soon be facing charges, as I have been told that it's not uncommon for kids to be using drugs/alcohol at school. Of course, the teachers don't see it happening, and they do their best to overlook the fact that kids are stoned/drunk in their classrooms. But that's a big messy problem involving unions and bureaucracy -- far easier to pick on individuals, isn't it?


Hmmm
another community
on May 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm
Hmmm, another community
on May 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm

The racial aspect of this is a moot point - there are no allegations of any kind about race or ethnicity either on the side of the people arrested, the police or the DA's office.

What a waste of time & money, plus likely damage to the Burnetts' reputation.


PV Parent
Portola Valley: other
on May 18, 2012 at 9:31 am
PV Parent, Portola Valley: other
on May 18, 2012 at 9:31 am

So whose job is it to second guess the actions of the MP police in this matter? Because I think some second-guessing is required.

I will not make ad-hominem attacks against Parent, a resident of the Woodside: Mountain Home Road neighborhood.


Lets get on with life
another community
on May 18, 2012 at 11:33 am
Lets get on with life, another community
on May 18, 2012 at 11:33 am

Small town cops reacting to a call from a kid that wasn't invited.
A ridiculous lack of judgement. Our kids are going to grow up. They are going to experiment. We can't control every action they take or every opportunity to sneak a drink or a toke. What we can do is provide a safety net and some checks for them. Taking keys at the door is an acknowledgement that kids are kids and should be kids and that it makes sense and shows caring to check in with them before they hit the road so that they are not coming and going at will and possibly in a compromised state.
Let's raise kids to exercise judgement and learn from experience not protect them from the need to.


Social Host
Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 19, 2012 at 3:45 am
Social Host, Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 19, 2012 at 3:45 am

The last paragraph of the article imples that adults in Menlo Park can be prosecuted if minors drink on their property.

A quick google of this same story from the mercury news and the bay area news group yielded this paragraph:

"While some cities and states have "social host" laws that allow adults to be fined for parties with underage drinking on their property, neither Menlo Park nor California has such laws.

The state does have a "Teen Alcohol Safety" law that was signed in November 2010, but its penalties apply only if an adult knowingly furnishes alcohol to a minor and an injury or death occurs.

It seems that adults who host are liable only in the unfortunate situation of actual harm to a person - not property damage or just that kids were drinking. It seems the law was clearly on the side of the citizen in this case. I wonder why he was arrested in the first place.

I also wonder why this paragraph was not included by the Almanac author/editor. I would love to have clarity on what the law actually states for Menlo Park. Maybe the chief of police would do a guest editorial?


POGO
Woodside: other
on May 19, 2012 at 10:00 am
POGO, Woodside: other
on May 19, 2012 at 10:00 am

I won't provide additional comments about the legality of what the Burnett's actions.

I do think that providing liquor to underage students is breathtakingly poor judgment.


Hmmm
another community
on May 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm
Hmmm, another community
on May 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Social Host - I wondered the same thing. I figured that the arrest may have been on the belief that the Burnetts had furnished the alcohol. It would take a bit of digging to find our what he was actually arrested for.


Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm
Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer, Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

According to the district attorney's office, California law is not clearly defined regarding liability. Furnishing alcohol to a minor, whether done indirectly or directly, is a criminal offense and subject to prosecution. The same goes for contributing to the delinquency of a minor through criminal negligence, i.e. failing to take reasonable steps to make sure minors aren't drinking.


Parent
Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 21, 2012 at 1:02 pm
Parent, Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 21, 2012 at 1:02 pm

"The same goes for contributing to the delinquency of a minor through criminal negligence, i.e. failing to take reasonable steps to make sure minors aren't drinking."

Ms. Brundage,
thanks for the information. A reasonable person could then conclude that taking away the car keys of the teens implied knowledge of teen drinking, hence contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
So what stopped the deputy DA? The presence of Stanford in the equation?


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 21, 2012 at 1:24 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 21, 2012 at 1:24 pm

IF Menlo Park is truly concerned about this issue then the Council could enact a Social Host ordinance, like many other communities such as Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Milpitas, Palo Alto, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Los Altos, Los Gatos and Santa Clara, which would hold the hosts responsible for underage drinking on their property.

Web Link


Michael G. Stogner
another community
on May 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm
Michael G. Stogner, another community
on May 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm

It will be interesting to see if Mr. Burnett will seek a Factual Innocence ruling.


Menlo Voter
Menlo Park: other
on May 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm
Menlo Voter, Menlo Park: other
on May 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm

"It will be interesting to see if Mr. Burnett will seek a Factual Innocence ruling."

Bet he doesn't


Michael G. Stogner
another community
on May 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm
Michael G. Stogner, another community
on May 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Menlo Voter I'm with you...."Bet he doesn't" even try.

I still think Menlo Park Police did an excellent job, everybody got home safe.


Menlo Voter
Menlo Park: other
on May 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm
Menlo Voter, Menlo Park: other
on May 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm

"I still think Menlo Park Police did an excellent job, everybody got home safe."

Agreed. And you can bet the naysayers here that think it was "all an over reaction" would be calling for MPPD's head on a stick if one of the drunken teens had left and crashed their car injuring someone.

To those of you that think that the MPPD over reacted, I suggest you pull your heads out and realize what a bunch of enablers you are.


JOEY
Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm
JOEY, Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm

AM/PM pickup, party at the Burnetts, then roll back over to the AM/PM. You would think with all the money here, some parents could fund something for "Little Jimmy" to do on Friday and Saturday night.
Be involved with your kid, know him.. No one else will. Take responsibility.


Steve
Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm
Steve, Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm

I agree, MPPD did there job and everyone got home safely.


Parent
Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm
Parent, Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm

The MP police did their job, thank goodness. The DA's office dropped the ball.

Here's a question: Did the Burnett's and their son and daughter come away from this with a new respect for the law? Or was their sense of entitlement re-enforced?

Hmmmm


Mom x 4
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm
Mom x 4, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Entitled? Haven't we all learned that no one is entitled to host a party any more? People just have to accept the possibility that the cops will come bursting into their home at any random moment, concocting evidence or probable cause if none exists. (Remember, there was a young woman walking down the street that evening who was arrested by these hyperactive enforcers -- the fact that she was in the vicinity of the party was a sure sign that she must be guilty of something!)

To those of you who praise these thugs-with-badges for their preemptive antics: I hope you are excited about the prospect of a police state. If the rest of us don't push back, that's where we are headed. When you trade liberty for "security," you're bound to get the bum end of the transaction.


Steve
Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm
Steve, Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm

@MomX4 get a life and reality. The police were called and did there job. It was investigated and no charges. The police did nothing illegal or out to get anyone. The police were called, the police responded and......... everyone went home safely.


Menlo Voter
Menlo Park: other
on May 23, 2012 at 7:59 pm
Menlo Voter, Menlo Park: other
on May 23, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Momx4:

I'm betting you would be one of those screaming for MPPD's heads had they not done their jobs and one of the pressious, enabled children of our community left drunk and killed or injured someone. NO?

Your posts reak of police hatred. They can do nothing right. We're far from a "police state." If you really think so, don't call them when you need them. Oh, then it's ok? [portion deleted] and realize you are an enabler.


Parent
Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 24, 2012 at 8:08 am
Parent, Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 24, 2012 at 8:08 am

There was a drunk driving accident on El Camino last night. This is why people like the Burnetts and Mom x 4, can't play God and decide which laws apply to them and which don't.


One who knows
Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 11:04 am
One who knows, Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 11:04 am

You all weren't there, you didn't see any of it, you don't know all the facts. Monday morning quarterbacking. Justice was done here...period...


Menlo Voter
Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm
Menlo Voter, Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm

One who knows:

were you there? If not you are monday morning quarterbacking like everyone else.


Menlo Voter
Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm
Menlo Voter, Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Parent:

you are right. Here's something else for the enablers to consider.

If a 160 pound person consumes one beer their blood alcohol level will be .02% within about 20 minutes to 30 minutes. If that person is under 21 the law says they cannot get behind the wheel. If that person has nothing further to drink for 1 hour after their BA (blood alcohol) has reached .02% it should be back to 0% and they should be able to drive.

Does one honestly think a teen at a party will follow the above scenario? What is more likely is that they will drink more than one drink. For each of those additonal drinks you can add .02% to their BA. AND you can add an hour for each of those drinks without drinking for those drinks to clear their system. It doesn't matter how fast you put it in, the body only processes it at .02% per hour. So let's assume this person drinks three beers in two hours. They will need to then stop drinking and wait three hours for the alcohol to clear their system so, that as an under age driver, they are legal to drive.

Does anyone see this as a likely scenario? I don't either. Which means the host of this party is putting drivers on the street that are not legal to drive. That does not sound like a good idea to me. Both from a legal stand point and a liability stand point.

What else has occurred in this scenario? We have adults teaching young people that they don't have to obey the law if they don't like the law or they think it is stupid. This is not how our legal system works. Our society has put laws in place that we think are necessary for the common good. We have a system in place for those that disagree to change or attempt to change those laws. What these parents are teaching these young people is that they can ignore laws they don't agree with and they don't need to respect the system of laws society has put in place. What a great message to teach our youth!


Mom x 4
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm
Mom x 4, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Wow. Some of you are missing the point.

It's not ok for parents to serve alcohol at a party. By all accounts, these parents were not serving alcohol, and were doing their best to ensure that no one was drinking, so all the discussion about beer and percentages and metabolic process is moot.

It is not ok to drive while under the influence of alcohol. Was the person who drove drunk on El Camino a teenager? What does that incident have to do with this story? I'm confused.

It is a leap of logic to link the above two facts with the home invasion that the Burnetts endured. Who among us is safe if that is the mentality of those who allegedly protect us? What's to stop the police from crashing into your house, guns drawn, because they "think" someone in your home might be considering committing a crime? This is the stuff of which sci fi movies are made. We don't want it to become our reality. Do we?

Hold the line. And if necessary, push back. Unless you really want a nanny/police state. Do you?


Menlo Voter
Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm
Menlo Voter, Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Momx4:

It is my understanding the police were called they didn't just simply "show up." Once they were there and had reports of under age drinking they were duty bound to investigate. Only one way to do that, go inside and start interviewing people. No "nanny state" there, just police work. Common, ordinary police work.

The Burnets may not have been serving alcohol, but the fact they took keys away tells me they knew full well that there were kids drinking on their property. They allowed it to happen. Their taking of keys was a wink and a nod to the kids that were there.

So, given their wink and nod, they should have been well versed in BA percentages and metabolic processes because the chances were they were going to have kids leaving their proerty that were under the influence or, at the very least, not legal to drive.


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