Consequences of Underage Drinking
Some people may think of underage drinking as part of growing up – a rite of passage even for teens navigating the awkward transition from childhood to adulthood. In reality, however, underage drinking is a serious problem that carries severe consequences.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), teens who start drinking at an early age are about seven times more likely to be involved in an alcohol-related accident than teens who don’t drink. The NHTSA also noted that car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers and that underage drivers under the influence of alcohol are involved in about one-fourth of these fatal accidents.
In New Jersey, as in most states throughout the country, you must be at least 21 years old to legally purchase, possess or drink alcohol. Youths who violate this age restriction expose themselves to fines and other penalties under the law. Adults who help them obtain the alcohol are subject to penalties under New Jersey’s social host liability laws.
Penalties for Underage Drinking
Penalties for possessing or drinking alcohol under the age of 21 in New Jersey include fines beginning at $500, community service, and possible mandatory enrollment in a treatment or alcohol education program. If you are caught possessing or drinking alcohol in a motor vehicle, those penalties will also include a suspension of your driving privileges for six months.
For young drivers, the “legal” blood alcohol content (BAC) limit is 0.01%, as opposed to 0.08% for adult drivers. Therefore, drivers under 21 who are caught with even a trace of alcohol in their system face suspension or postponement of their driving privileges for six months. This applies even if you are caught possessing or drinking alcohol before you are eligible for your driver’s license. In that event, the suspension of your driving privileges will continue until six months after your seventeenth birthday.
You could face additional consequences depending upon the circumstances of your individual case. For example, you could face penalties for the use of a fake ID to obtain the alcohol, or you could be held liable for damages you caused while under the influence.
Adults Face Consequences Too
Adults could face lawsuits and possible criminal prosecution if they supply the alcohol and/or allow for underage drinking on property they own, especially in cases where the underage drinking was found to be responsible for injury or death of someone involved.
There are a few exemptions to the underage drinking laws in New Jersey. For instance, it is permissible for a minor to consume alcohol in association with a religious ceremony, observation or right. It is also permissible for parents or legal guardians to serve alcohol to their own teenage children in a private setting as long as the parents or guardians are present. However, it is not okay to serve alcohol to, or permit drinking by, your children’s friends on your property whether or not you are present at the time.
Seek Professional Counsel
Underage drinking is not a right; it is a disorderly persons offense, which in New Jersey is considered a misdemeanor crime. Because of this, it is important to get legal representation if your child is facing such charges.
Through his experience as an officer on the Elizabeth, NJ police force, Victor Rotolo is acquainted with police procedures and practices; as a criminal attorney experienced in juvenile matters, Mr. Rotolo is your advocate in the courtroom. If you or your child is facing charges related to underage drinking or enabling underage drinking, contact The Rotolo Law Firm today at 908-534-7900. Our attorneys will work to protect your rights and those of your child.