NJ Legal Defense Update: Summer is the Time for Underage Drinking, Driving and DWI Arrests

With summer upon us and the school year all but over, youngsters from junior high and high schools all across the Garden State will be hitting the beaches, the malls and local meeting spots to kick off their summer vacation in a big way. Unfortunately, some of what young people do during their vacation is experiment with alcohol.

While many will argue that teenage drinking is part of the growing up, the state of New Jersey has strict rules against underage drinking, and even possession of alcoholic beverages by minors. As New Jersey drunken driving defense lawyers, I and my staff of experienced DWI attorneys know well the circumstances that can lead to a DWI arrest. Similarly, we also know how damaging an underage drinking or drunk driving conviction can be to an individual just starting out on his or her life’s journey.

Right of passage or not, New Jersey law does not recognize a minor’s right to drink, either in public or at home. Any adults who knowingly allow youngsters to engage in such activities is also opening themselves up to their own legal problems. It’s always advisable to follow the law and avoid a serious alcohol-related arrest and conviction down the road.

Many organizations around the state and throughout the nation believe that underage drinking represents an significant public health issue. Whether one agrees with this statement, it has been fairly well documented that alcohol — such as beer and wine — is the drug of choice among children and adolescents. This may not be too surprising due to the relative ease of access that kids have to household stock of alcoholic beverages.

Some parents and legal guardians believe that it is safer for young teens to drink at home, if they are going to drink anywhere, so those adults sometimes actively participate in a child’s drinking and hence breaking the law. In fact, under the state’s social host liability laws, any adult who chooses to supply beer, wine, hard liquor or another kind alcoholic beverage to a young person under 21 years of age can be held accountable if any of the underage individuals are killed or injured as a result. And then there are the potential liability suits.

In addition to lawsuits, parents could be subject to criminal prosecution for allowing underage drinking by teens or other minors in their home. There are exceptions, but on the whole, it’s not wise for any adult to promote at-home drinking parties for teenagers. For those parents who think that being away from their house exempts them from responsibility due to their absence, think again. An adult may be held responsible for underage drinking that occurs anywhere on their property, regardless of whether they are home or not.

Of course, for the child, the consequences of underage drinking, or drinking and driving, can be significant. Here in New Jersey, drinking is illegal for any person under the age of 21 — a person must be at lest 21 years of age to purchase, possess or consume alcoholic beverages. This discussion is not even touching on marijuana possession, or possession of other controlled dangerous substanses (CDS).

For those kids who are caught and convicted of buying or drinking alcohol in a place with an alcohol beverage license, they can have their driver’s license suspended for 6 months and be fined $500 for the offense. A youngster who does not yet have a driver license will face a suspension as soon as he or she is first eligible to receive it. On top of that, even a minor child may be required to attend an alcohol education or treatment program.

To be more specific, anyone under 21 convicted of driving with any detectable amount of alcohol his or her bloodstream — that is, with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.01 percent or more — is in violation of New Jersey’s zero tolerance law, the penalties for which include:

  • Loss or postponement of driving privileges for 30 to 90 days
  • 15 to 30 days of community service
  • Participation in an alcohol and traffic safety education program