Underage Alcohol Consumption: What Looks Like Teenage Hijinks Can Mean Serious Consequences for Kids

Although the summer is not even half over, it seems like some parents are counting the days until the school year starts up again. But the fact of the matter is, summer vacation is still in full swing. For those families with junior high and high school kids, anxiety levels can be quite high as it is not unusual for some teens to experiment with alcohol or drugs during long unsupervised periods like this. While graduation parties are long past, family gatherings, vacation get-togethers and impromptu beach parties can bring youngsters together in close proximity to beer, wine and hard liquor; needless to say, the results can be very unsettling for many parents.

While some mother and fathers may feel that a little experimentation on the part of their teens is unavoidable, others believe it is simply unacceptable; the State of New Jersey is certainly sides with the latter. This time of the year, even teenagers who are just a couple years away from legal drinking age must surely feel that 21 is still a lifetime away. When parties and summer gatherings bring adults and kids together, it is not surprising that the temptation to sneak a drink an be strong for some of these kids.

As New Jersey DWI defense lawyers, we are not here today to argue the moral aspects of underage drinking, but we do have a number of caveats that any underage teen or young adult should consider before indulging oneself when alcohol is nearby and plentiful. Especially for those driving-age kids, the dangers of intoxication could have deadly results when alcohol in any form does not receive the respect that it deserves, and which can only come with age and experience.

From a legal standpoint, getting into behind the wheel of a car when impaired by alcohol or drugs can result in some hefty fines and other penalties, all of which can make for a miserable summer and present future consequences down the line. For those who are under the age of 21, drinking and driving can result in the loss or suspension of one’s driver’s license for a minimum of six months. Even if you don’t yet have a driver’s license, if you are stopped by police and found to have any amount of alcohol in your system, you will be looking at a future suspension of your license once you are eligible to receive it.

On top of the loss of driving privileges, those convicted of underage DWI can end up being ordered to participate in an alcohol education or treatment program, as well as community service, plus he or she my face some potentially heavy fines. Please note that drinking and driving is not a criminal offense in the Garden State, but what this means is that there is no right to a trial by jury; a judge will make the determination of guilt or innocence, not to mention set the penalties following a possible conviction.

None of this is meant to scare or intimidate teenagers and other young people who have been toying with the idea of drinking alcohol while under the legal age. What we are trying to do is to lay out the potential consequences so that young people can make an informed choice as to the legal consequences of their actions.

Consuming (or even possessing) alcohol under 21 years of age is addressed in the New Jersey legal statutes, specifically N.J.S. 2C:33-15. With the focus on preventing (through legal penalties) underage drinking, it should come as no surprise that underage DWI is frowned on even more. Undoubtedly, with adults over the legal drinking age being caught on a regular basis operating motor vehicles while legally intoxicated, the state is sure to be serious about dissuading teens and young adults from doing the same thing in their early years. Simply the possession or consumption of beer, wine or hard liquor by a minor is a violation that comes with a minimum $500 fine.

We will also add that in some area of New Jersey even the underage possession or consumption of alcohol on private property is illegal. In such cases, if the police are called to investigate a loud party in someone’s home or backyard, teenagers or adults under 21 who have been drinking may end up being charged with underage drinking. Such situations can result in an individual being hit with a “disorderly persons” offense; this can end up following them into adulthood since that kind of violation gets appended to one’s permanent criminal record, which can impact one’s future education or employment opportunities.

As professional civil and criminal trial lawyers, my legal staff has handled thousands of DWI and underage drinking cases through the years. My colleagues and I can work with prosecuting attorneys and trial judges to have charges reduced or sometimes dropped altogether. Of course, every underage drinking or DWI case is unique, therefore the results may vary depending on the facts and circumstances of each individual’s case.