Do You Need an Attorney for an Underage Drinking Charge?
One of the most prevalent crimes committed by those under 21 years of age is underage drinking. Whether it be for the social aspect, experimentation, or another reason, underage drinking seems to be becoming more and more prevalent among our youth in today’s society. Unfortunately, underage drinking can have serious consequences on the offender and possibly even the supplier of the alcohol. Convictions in municipal court related to underage drinking can result in harsh penalties, including fines, license suspensions, jail time, and a permanent criminal record. It is important to have a qualified attorney by your side whether you are an adult (18-21) facing an underage drinking charge in municipal court, a parent facing a charge in municipal court for supplying alcohol, or a juvenile facing an underage drinking charge in juvenile court. The attorneys at Hanlon Niemann & Wright have the knowledge and experience to represent you in your underage drinking case, whatever the circumstances may be.
What New Jersey Law Says About Underage Drinking
New Jersey has a number of laws pertaining to underage drinking. These laws address underage drinking in a number of contexts. They also involve not only the underage drinker, but also potentially those who serve the alcohol to the minors. For information on parent liability, please see the section below entitled “What Type of Liability Can a Parent Face For Underage Drinking?”. Here are a few of the basic New Jersey underage drinking laws pertaining to the underage drinkers themselves.
1. Possession of Alcohol by a Person Under the Age of 21 on Public Property, in a School, or in a Motor Vehicle
New Jersey State Law does not expressly prohibit underage drinking on private property, although most municipalities throughout the state have enacted laws prohibiting such. The state does however prohibit underage drinking almost everywhere else, including all public property such as parks and ball fields, schools and all school-owned property, and in all motor vehicles, including those that are not running at the time. It is important to note that this even includes alcohol that is unopened.
Since 21 is the legal drinking age in New Jersey, it logically follows that nobody under the age of the 21 should be allowed to operate a motor vehicle with alcohol in their system. New Jersey has a law that states exactly this. Anyone under 21 who operates a motor vehicle with a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of over .001% will be guilty of underage DWI. Furthermore, if the under-21 individual operates a motor vehicle with a BAC over .008%, the adult legal limit, they are also be subject to adult sentences, which are far more severe than underage DUI sentences.
3. Purchase of Alcohol By an Underage Individual on a Licensed Premises
New Jersey laws expressly prohibit an underage person from purchasing alcohol, getting another individual to purchase alcohol for them, or misrepresenting their age for the purpose of buying alcohol from a licensed premises. This includes liquor stores, bars, or any other establishment that is licensed to sell alcohol.
What Penalties Can an Underage Individual Face if Convicted of Underage Drinking?
Underage Drinking is a serious offense. Many young individuals do not fully understand the consequences of their actions and the possible implications that may arise from drinking. It is important for parents to explain to their children the stiff penalties they may face if they consume alcohol underage.
The penalties an underage drinker faces depends on a number of different factors. First, the Court in which the individual will be tried in is determined by their age. Generally, individuals under 18 will be tried in juvenile court, while those 18 and older will be tried in municipal court. Juvenile court still can sentence an individual convicted of underage drinking to a detention center, community service, and other penalties, but cannot sentence the child to an adult jail. However, for more major crimes, such as underage DUI resulting in the death of an individual, it is possible for the juvenile court to waive jurisdiction up to the municipal court. In these rare instances, the juvenile may be tried and sentenced as an adult.
Municipal Court hears all cases involving disorderly persons offenses, a group of crimes which underage drinking is considered a part of. All individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 who are charged with underage drinking will therefore be tried in front of a New Jersey Municipal Court. For simple possession of alcohol charges, these individuals may potentially face penalties of up to six months in jail, up to $1000 in fines, mandatory participation in an alcohol education program, community service, and other costs/fees if they are found guilty. This applies to underage possession of alcohol on public property, in schools, and purchasing alcohol underage at a licensed premises, among other basic alcohol possession crimes. It is also important to note that if the underage drinking offense was committed in a motor vehicle, the defendant may also be subject to a six month suspension of their license, or if they do not have their license, a six-month delay in receiving their license when they apply for it.
Underage DUI is another crime tried in Municipal Court. This crime provides slightly different penalties for those convicted. As previously mentioned, the legal alcohol limit for drivers is .008% BAC. However, since those under 21 are not allowed to drink, an underage DUI can be given to anyone under 21 who has a BAC of .001%. The law has provided penalties strictly for those who are under the legal limit but are underage and therefore are not allowed to have any alcohol in their system at all. Therefore, those with a BAC of .001 to .008 will be found guilty of underage DUI and subject to different penalties than those with a BAC above .008. Those with a BAC under .008 found guilty of underage DUI will be subject to a 30-90 day license suspension or delay, community service of 15-30 days and mandatory attendance in an alcohol education program. Underage individuals who are convicted of a DWI/DUI with a BAC above .008 will be subject to adult DWI/DUI penalties, which include up to 30 days in jail, 12-48 hours of community service, a three-month license suspension, a fine of $250 – $400, as well as other penalties and other costs/fees.
What Type of Liability Can a Parent Face For Underage Drinking?
Parents are often unaware of the significant penalties they are subject to for not only supplying their kids with alcohol, but also by simply allowing kids to drink in their home. New Jersey has strict laws that prevent parents and others over the age from serving, supplying, or hosting underage drinking. This includes parents who have not supplied the alcohol and may not even know the underage drinking was going on in their home, but “should have known” that it was taking place. New Jersey takes underage drinking seriously and parents must be aware of the consequences of their actions when it pertains to underage drinking.
If an adult is found supplying, serving, or hosting underage drinking, they will be tried in New Jersey Municipal Court and subject to harsh penalties at the discretion of the judge. These include imprisonment of up to six months, up to a $1000 fine, community service, other fines/costs, and other penalties. They can also have a permanent criminal record if convicted, which can show up when they apply for jobs, apply to school, or in many other contexts.
Not only can parents be criminally liable for breaking this law, but also civilly liable under what New Jersey calls “Social Host Laws”. These laws basically state that the host may be found liable for any accidents that may occur after an underage drinker leaves the premises. This means that if a parent allows underage individuals to drink on their property, they may be liable to a third party injured by a tort committed by the underage drinkers. One of the most typical examples is when an underage drinker leaves the house and gets into a car accident, resulting in the injury of a third party. The third party can then turn around and file a civil suit against the adult host of the underage drinking. In addition, New Jersey Host laws state that the adult host can also be found liable for the injuries to the underage drinker themselves. Clearly New Jersey has intended for broad laws to hold parents and other adults liable for supplying alcohol to minors.
Underage drinking provides stiff penalties not only for the underage drinkers themselves, but for parents and adults involved as well. This includes not only those who supply the alcohol, but also those who allow underage drinking to take place at their home. Due to the harsh penalties and strict laws associated with underage drinking in New Jersey, it is important to have an experienced Municipal Court attorney by your side.
Please call Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq., a knowledgeable New Jersey Underage Drinking Attorney, today at (855) 376-5291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He would be happy to discuss any underage drinking matter with you.
Written by Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a New Jersey Municipal Law Attorney