Possession or Consumption of Alcohol in Public

Possession or Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages in a Public Place or Motor Vehicle by a Person under the Legal Age (a Minor)

Have you read your local or weekly newspaper lately? Every Monday or so there appears a story about the police raiding a house or neighborhood party and arresting all the kids under 21 for underage drinking. Guess what? Those kids under age 18 are going to Juvenile Court. 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 kids. Unfortunately, underage drinking can have serious consequences even to the parents or adults who supply the alcohol. The law is pretty clear on the charge(s). It reads:

“Any person under the legal age (21) who purchases alcoholic beverages or who knowingly possesses, consumes an alcoholic beverage in any school, public transportation, public place, or place where others are present, or in a motor vehicle, is guilty of a disorderly person’s offense, and must be fined not less than $500”.

If the offense is committed in a car, the court must, in addition to the sentence discussed above, suspend for six months the adolescent’s driving license. Talk about excessive punishment. If convicted under this section of the statute the court is supposed to send a report to the Division of Motor Vehicles. If a person at the time of the sentence is less than 17 years of age, the license postponement, or suspension commences on the day the sentence is imposed and runs for a period of six months after the person reaches the age of 17 years. That means your son or daughter loses his or her license even before they receive it.

What New Jersey Law Says About Underage Drinking

New Jersey has a number of strict laws pertaining to underage drinking. These laws address underage drinking in a number of contexts. They involve not only the underage drinker, but also those who serve alcohol to 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.

I. 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.

II. Underage DWU/DUI

  • 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.

III. 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 under age 18 do not fully understand the consequences of their actions and the possible implications that may arise from drinking.

The penalties for underage drinking depend on a number of 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. A juvenile court still can sentence a young offender to a detention center, community service, and other penalties, but cannot sentence the child to an adult jail. However, for a more major offense, 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.

What Type of Liability Can a Parent Face For Underage Drinking?

Parents are often unaware of the significant penalties they are subject to for 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 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 can be found 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.

Fredrick P. Niemann Esq.

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.

If you require legal assistance with an underage drinking charge, contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll free at (855) 376-5291 or e-mail him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com. As a father of four sons, he knows how you feel. He will be happy to answer your questions.


Written by Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a New Jersey Juvenile Court Attorney