Here in the Garden State, the laws pertaining to underage drinking, as well as underage DWI, are very specific. Because New Jersey statutes clearly state that an individual cannot be younger than 21 years of age to buy, possess or drink any alcoholic beverage, underage drinking is, by definition, an illegal act. The consequences for underage consumption of alcohol can be very severe under New Jersey law, especially when the violation occurs in conjunction with the operation of a motor vehicle, which can lead to a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol if a young person is stopped by police.
Regardless of whether a young person is stopped for driving under the influence, and subsequently arrested on DWI charges, simply having an underage drinking conviction on one’s record could affect an individual’s future driving privileges in New Jersey. To be sure, when talking about underage drinking offenses, it is always important to consider the potential penalties attached to a conviction for underage drinking (also known as a disorderly persons offense).
For example, those individuals under 21 years of age who are arrested by a police officer for consuming alcohol — or even purchasing an alcoholic beverage in a licensed establishment — could receive a fine of at least $500, not to mention have his or her driver’s license suspended for upward of six months. For those more egregious offenses, there are other, more severe consequences. Depending on the circumstances, an underage drinking conviction may include actual jail time (up to six months) and fines approaching $1000.
Any parents who are reading this should also remember that even if your child does not yet have a motor vehicle operator’s license, the aforementioned driver’s license suspension will simply be delayed until later. In other words, once convicted of underage drinking, a young person can expect to have his or her driving privileges suspended starting from the time that youngster is first eligible to receive his driver’s license.
In addition to fines and license suspensions, young people who violate New Jersey’s underage drinking laws may also be ordered by the court to attend an alcohol treatment/education program. All of this may not seem serious to many teens or young adults, however, the loss of driving privileges can be a burden to the entire family, especially when getting to school or work is impacted.
As previously mentioned, underage DWI is also a serious offense, one for which it is always a good idea to contact a qualified drunk driving attorney for advice. Our state’s laws regarding underage DWI are covered in N.J.S.A. 39:40-15.14. These laws are different from the ones that cover underage possession of alcohol and underage drinking. For law pertaining to these kinds of offenses, the New Jersey statutes include N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15.
When looking at the evidence required to convict a young person on charges of underage drinking, the law specifies that it is illegal for anyone under 21 years to have any amount of alcohol in their system. As someone under 21, if you are caught driving with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) is between 0.01 and 0.08 percent, you will be charged as a Juvenile, which means that your case will be handled in Juvenile Court. However, with a BAC over 0.08 percent, even an underage individual will be charged as an adult and subject to the DWI-DUI standards that apply to adults under the laws of the State of New Jersey.
Just as with standard drinking and driving offenses, an underage DWI is always heard by a judge; there is no right to a jury trial because these offenses are not considered by statute as criminal in nature. While many people, including adults think a jury trial is preferable, it is often true that having one’s case heard by a municipal judge can be better overall. The reason for this is due to the fact that judges, on the whole, tend to be more objective than juries, which can sometimes sentence defendants based on more subjective criteria, such as past experiences and personal feelings.
Again, consulting with a skilled trial lawyer experienced in defending individuals accused of drunk driving, underage drinking and other alcohol and drug-related offenses can be the most important decision you can make when facing these kinds of charges.