Cape May, NJ is a premier summer tourist destination for folks of all ages, including teenagers and young adults who remain below the legal drinking age of 21. Unfortunately, kids of that age do not always make the best decisions, especially when it comes to the consumption of alcohol, and even more so while they are vacationing on the shore. If charged with underage drinking, however, young people could face serious repercussions, including a criminal record that could jeopardize their future.
At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our skilled Cape May, NJ underage drinking attorneys have years of experience working with young clients charged with this crime to successfully get their charges downgraded or dismissed. We understand the serious consequences that come with being convicted of even a relatively minor crime like this and will leave no stone unturned fighting to bring your case to the most successful possible conclusion. We will be there with you from the start of your case to the finish, answering any questions you may have, serving as your steadfast advocate, and fighting to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. For a free consultation, call us today at (609) 445-3533.
What is the Crime of Underage Drinking in Cape May, NJ?
N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-15 makes it a disorderly persons offense for anyone under the legal drinking age of 21 years old to knowingly possess or consume alcohol in any school, public conveyance, public place, place of public assembly, or motor vehicle. Examples of public places under this law include bars and restaurants, public parks and beaches, schools, concert venues, and vehicles. You are not permitted to transport alcohol for adults in your vehicle under this law unless it is part of your occupation, such as a delivery driver. Underage drinking on private property in Cape May County is not illegal under state law but is a violation of many local ordinances.
Furthermore, a separate section, N.J.S.A. § 33:1-81, makes it a disorderly persons offense if someone under the age of 21 purchases or attempts to purchase alcoholic beverages, enters any store or bar licensed to sell alcohol for the purposes of purchasing or having alcohol served to them, misrepresents their age in order to be served alcohol, or asks a person 21 or older to purchase alcohol for them.
While the state law does not apply to the consumption of alcohol by minors on private property, many municipal ordinances make it illegal for those under 21 to do so, unless they are being supervised by a parent or guardian. Furthermore, while those under the legal age cannot be charged for consuming alcohol on private property unless a municipal ordinance applies, any adults present can possibly be charged with the separate crime of “availability of alcoholic beverages to underage persons.” If a person 21 or older allows or entices a person under the legal age who is not their child to consume alcohol on their property, they can be charged with this disorderly persons offense. This does not apply, however, if the individual’s parent or guardian is present and gives permission for the drinking to occur.
Even if alcohol is not directly given to individuals under the legal age, if you knowingly make alcohol available by leaving it in a place you know the underage individuals will have access to, you can still be charged under this section. However, if the parents of the individual under the drinking age are present and give their permission for their child to consume alcohol, the charge will not apply.
What are the Penalties for Underage Drinking in Cape May, NJ?
If convicted of underage drinking in Cape May County or one the related offenses described above, all of which are disorderly persons offenses, you could face up to up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000, not including court costs and other assessments. For convictions under the underage possession or consumption statute in particular, there is a mandatory fine of at least $500. The state can also require you to participate in an alcohol education or treatment program. For minors under 18, the case will take place in juvenile court where punishments can vary more, and might include more educational and community-service based punishments rather than jail time and fines. If the offense occurs in a vehicle, there will also be suspension of your motor vehicle license for six months, or until six months after your 17th birthday if you are not yet licensed to drive.
Additionally, there are consequences beyond the criminal penalties imposed for underage drinking. If convicted, you will have a criminal record that can prevent you from getting a job, getting college financial aid, or joining the military in some cases. A skilled Cape May, NJ underage drinking lawyer like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych can try to get you into a pre-trial diversion program, where your charges will be dropped and you will not have a criminal record if you successfully complete the program, which can include such things as alcohol education classes and community service.
Defenses to Cape May, NJ Underage Drinking Charges
There are several common defenses to charges of underage drinking in Cape May County, some of which are specifically written into the statute. As noted above, you are typically permitted to drink underage if you are at your home and in the presence of your parents or guardians. You are permitted to possess alcohol if you are employed at a place where it is served or sold, such as a liquor store or a bar or restaurant. If you are enrolled in an educational program, such as culinary arts, where wine is used as part of the curriculum, this is also a defense. Furthermore, drinking under the legal age is permitted when it is done in conjunction with a religious ceremony or observation.
Perhaps the most important exception is what is known as the medical emergency exception. This exception is written into the statute in detail. The underage person with the medical emergency, along with one or two other underage people who were with them, can be exempt from being charged if the following conditions are met:
- One of the underage persons called 911 to report that they or another underage person were in need of medical assistance due to alcohol consumption
- The underage person who called 911 and, if applicable, one or two others acting together, each provide their names to the 9-1-1 operator
- This was the first 911 report made regarding the incident
- The individuals all stayed on the scene until help arrived and cooperated with law enforcement personnel
In some cases, our Cape May County underage drinking defense lawyers may be able to convince the prosecutors to allow you into a pre-trial diversion program. If you successfully complete such a program, which might involve alcohol education courses and community service, among other things, your charges will be dropped and you will not have a criminal record to worry about. In other cases, the prosecutor might agree to downgrade the charge to an infraction or ordinance violation or recommend a more lenient sentence in exchange for you pleading guilty. Of course, if you do not wish to take a deal, our skilled trial lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych are always ready and able to craft the best defense to fight for a not guilty verdict at trial.
Call Our Experienced Cape May, NJ Underage Drinking Attorneys Today
Teenagers and young adults are not always known for having the best sense of judgment, especially where drinking and peer pressure are involved. Summers on the Jersey Shore can bring even further temptation for individuals under the legal drinking age of 21 to consume alcohol at beach bars or parties. While this may seem like a harmless bit of fun, if you are caught and cited or arrested for underage drinking in Cape May County it can lead to serious repercussions, including criminal penalties as well as a criminal record that could follow you for the rest of your life.
Underage drinking, while not the most major crime out there, is still a serious charge that can come with serious penalties. The best way to help bring your case to the most positive possible resolution is to retain a battle-tested Cape May underage drinking attorney like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych. Our Cape May criminal defense lawyers will fight to keep your future from being impacted by a single mistake. Call us today at (609) 445-3533 for a free consultation.