Not everyone realizes the actual consequences of underage drinking. It doesn’t matter if you decide to pick up a beer when you’re in your teens or nearing your twenty-first birthday. The penalties for underage drinking can be expensive and inconvenient.
Underage drinking is just one part of the problem. What if you drank just one beer and are caught behind the wheel? In New Jersey, you would be subject to “Baby DWI” laws. If you are charged with this offense, it is important to speak to an experienced DWI attorney to potentially represent you in court.
The Law on Underage Drinking
Most people know that New Jersey law prohibits the consumption of alcohol until a person has attained the age of twenty-one. It is also illegal for someone under the age of twenty-one to purchase alcoholic beverages.
If your immediate thought is to argue that you are old enough to fight for our country and vote, you’ll get no dispute. However, this is the way the law is written, and the court is obligated to follow it.
You might be surprised to learn that there are some exceptions to the rule. For example, you are able to take a sip of wine in conjunction with a religious service. According to NJSA 2C:33-17, a parent or guardian may serve alcohol to their minor child if they are at home. (The alcohol must be consumed in the parent or guardian’s presence.) This does not mean that the parents can serve alcohol to other minors who are not their children.
The last exception to this rule involves possession of alcohol, but not consumption and is found at NJSA 40:48-1.2. Someone who is over age eighteen is able to serve alcohol as a part of their job. They may also work with alcohol as a part of a post-secondary education program in culinary arts or hotel management program.
Now that you understand the fundamental law regarding underage drinking, let’s start with where you are when the police detain you for possession or consumption of alcohol. You should know that you can be found guilty of a disorderly persons offense if you are in any of the following places:
- Public conveyance, such as a train or bus
- Public place, such as a park
- Place of public assembly
- Motor vehicle
The minimum fine for a conviction of underage drinking in any of these places is $500. There are additional penalties for possession or consumption of alcohol in motor vehicles, which we will cover below.
If someone underage drinks in a private place that does not fall into the exceptions noted above, a fine of $250 for a first offense and $350 for any subsequent conviction would be assessed. In addition, the court may order a motor vehicle license suspension. The law also takes into account circumstances where the underage drinking occurred before the minor was seventeen.
Underage Drinking and Motor Vehicles
When underage drinking occurs in a motor vehicle, there are additional penalties. This includes license suspension. This would also concern prohibition of motorized bicycle operation for a time ordered by the court.
We mentioned that there are laws referred to as “Baby DWI laws.” The law regarding minors consuming alcohol and operating a car is found in the motor vehicle code at NJSA 39:4-50.14. Although a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .08% establishes whether a driver of legal age is intoxicated, the numbers are lower for minors. They drop as low as .01%.
Not only will license suspension be ordered, but the underage driver will be required to satisfy the program and fee requirements of an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center or participate in a program of alcohol education and highway safety.
New Jersey has zero tolerance for those who drink and drive, particularly those who are underage. Further penalties will include fines and community service.
The consequences for underage drinking warrant experienced legal advice. At the Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafaljo, we have appeared on behalf of minors for these types of offenses on many occasions. Contact our office to set up an appointment to discuss the facts of your case.