Prom, Graduation and Summer Vacation: Parents Beware the Season of Underage Drinking in New Jersey

Now that summer is practically here, youngsters all over the Garden State — from junior high to high school will surely be hitting the malls, the seaside and local gathering spots to celebrate yet another school year ended. This is all well and good, but parents of some teens know all too well that new-found freedom for some is an invitation to misbehave for others.

Mothers and fathers across New Jersey, and elsewhere around the nation, understand how the start of summer can offer up new opportunities for some teens and underage drivers to experiment with alcohol, not to mention marijuana and other narcotic substances.

While some say that teen drinking is part and parcel of the coming-of-age experience, the state of New Jersey has strict rules on its law books that prohibit underage drinking, not to mention simply the possession of alcohol by a minor. As a New Jersey DWI lawyer, I and my legal staff (including a team of highly experienced drunken driving defense attorneys) know all too well that kids, like adults, can find themselves in certain situations that lead inevitably to an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or prescription medications (drug DUI).

As attorneys representing those individuals who have been accused of driving drunk or operating a motor vehicle while impaired, we understand how potentially damaging an underage drinking or underage DWI conviction can be to young person on the cusp of adulthood. Rite of passage or not, New Jersey’s legislators have put in place statutes that in no way recognize or condone a minor’s right to drink, regardless of whether it is done in public or in private.

An adult who knowingly permits the underage use of alcohol is not only allowing those teens to potentially make a mistake that could haunt them into adulthood, but also opens themselves to some legal troubles of their own. As with any situation that has legal consequences, some of them criminal in nature, it is always the better part of valor to follow the law to avoid a serious alcohol-related arrest and conviction down the road.

Many organizations around the Garden State hold that underage drinking represents a significant public health problem. Whether you subscribe to this or not, it has been relatively well documented that the consumption of beer, wine and hard liquor — still a relatively common “drug of choice” among pre-teens and adolescents — continues to be a concern in many parts of society.

Parents and legal guardians faced with the inevitability of underage drinking may feel that keeping the activity close to home is the only answer. If kids are going to drink anyway, why not keep a close eye on things? Those adults who take this approach many times actively participate in a child’s drinking, and in the process step over the line and break the law.

What many adults do not realize is that under New Jersey’s “social host” liability laws, an adult who actively supplies beer, wine, hard liquor or another kind alcoholic beverage to a person under 21 can be held accountable if any of those teens or underage adults are killed or injured as a result. And that doesn’t even touch on the possible liability suits coming from those victims’ families.

In addition to lawsuits, the guilty adults could be subject to criminal prosecution for allowing underage drinking by minors in their home. Of course, there are exceptions, but in general it is safe to say that any adult who promotes at-home drinking by teenagers is asking for trouble. Finally, parents who believe that being out of the house during the activity absolves them of liability or responsibility are in for a rude surprise. Under New Jersey law, an adult could be held responsible for underage drinking that happens on their property, regardless of whether they are home at the time or not.