Unfortunately, people do not always make the best decisions in life. While it is widely known that you cannot drink alcohol before the age of 21, many young adults chose to do so. New Jersey has taken an aggressive stance to combat underage drinking. If you or your child has been charged with drinking underage in New Jersey they could potentially be facing serious charges that could affect the rest of their life, and it is imperative to contact an experienced NJ underage drinking lawyer immediately.

Unfortunately, the inherent nature of alcohol means that teens and young adults who are just getting used to being independent or semi-independent are subject not only to their inexperience in adult decision-making but also to the impaired judgment and lowered inhibitions that use of alcohol causes. While the possession or consumption of alcohol by an underage individual is a crime, it also makes young people more likely to commit other acts in violation of New Jersey’s laws.

If your child is facing serious criminal charges due to illegal possession of alcohol, illegally drinking alcohol while under the age of 21, or other alcohol-related offense the experienced criminal defense attorneys of The Law Firm of John J. Zarych can fight to protect your son or daughter from the full extent of penalties authorized under New Jersey State Law. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation for an underage drinking arrest or another alcohol-related offense, call (609) 616-4956 or contact us online.

New Jersey’s State-Based Penalties for Underage Drinking Under N.J.S.A 2C:33-15 & NJSA 33:1-81

New Jersey authorizes state-level penalties for teenagers and young adults who are caught purchasing or possessing alcohol prior to their 21st birthday. N.J.S.A 2C:33-15 is part of the New Jersey Criminal Code and is one law that speaks directly to punishment for underage drinking. Section (a) of the law states:

Any person under the legal age to purchase alcoholic beverages who knowingly possesses without legal authority or who knowingly consumes any alcoholic beverage in any school, public conveyance, public place, or place of public assembly, or motor vehicle, is guilty of a disorderly persons offense, and shall be fined not less than $500.00.

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This law actually sets forth several different scenarios where a young adult can face charges of underage drinking. First, a person under age 21 can face charges for purchasing alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, a teen who possesses alcohol and knows that he or she has alcohol can also face criminal charges. Furthermore, any underage individual who consumes alcohol in a school, car, or other public places can also face serious sanctions. Additionally, under section (c), a court may order the teen to take an alcohol education program approved by the Department of Health and Senior Services at the teen’s (or his or her parent’s) expense. As this law establishes the offense as a disorderly persons offense, conviction under the statute will remain on a teen’s record and may result in reduced educational or employment opportunities.

Furthermore, section (b) of this statute contemplates the consequences when this act is committed in a car, truck, van, or any other motor vehicle. This section of the law can result in the suspension of driving privileges for 6 months and referral to New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). If the teen has not yet reached age 17, the suspension will continue to run until 6 months after the individual’s 17th birthday. Disregarding this license suspension can result in additional penalties.

NJSA 33:1-81 criminalizes the act of misrepresenting one’s age to purchase beer, wine, spirits, or other alcoholic beverages. Under the statute, it is unlawful for an underage individual to:

  • Enter any store or bar licensed to sell alcohol for the purposes of purchasing or having alcohol served.
  • Enter any store or bar licensed to sell alcohol and attempt to purchase alcohol or attempt to have alcohol served.
  • Consume alcohol on the premises of a bar, restaurant, or other licensed establishment
  • Ask another person to purchase alcohol on his or her behalf
  • Misrepresent or misstate his or her age at the time of purchase

Offenses under this statute are criminal in nature and the minimum fine is $500 but penalties can reach $1,000. License suspension also applies to this offense. Furthermore, under NJSA 33:1-81.1 a parent or guardian may be required to attend any legal proceeding and can be subject to a fine of $500 for the offense and additional fines for subsequent offenses.

Exceptions to Underage Drinking in New Jersey

While it may seem odd there are reasons why someone under the age of 21 may either have or consume alcohol.  These exceptions are limited, but they should be discussed so that you have a further understanding of the laws and regulations in New Jersey. Generally, New Jersey recognizes three main exceptions to the general rule prohibiting minors from possessing or consuming alcohol.

  • Adult family members – Someone who is under the age of 21 may possess and consume alcohol with the permission, in the presence, and on the property of an immediate adult family member.
  • Religious participation – There are certain religious ceremonies that include alcohol, a minor may possess and consume alcohol in connection with a religious observance, right, or ceremony.
  • Employment or education – Minors may possess—but not consume—alcohol during the course of employment in an establishment licensed to sell alcohol, and as students in a licensed culinary arts or hotel management program. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 40:48-1.2.)

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What Are the Possible Penalties?

As mentioned above, New Jersey has taken a rather aggressive stance against underage drinking and has set high fines for violating the law. This is an attempt by New Jersey Lawmakers to deter those who are underage from drinking in public. These juvenile crimes penalties you or your child may face for drinking underage differ depending on the violation.

  • Entering establishments that serve alcohol; drinking in such establishments; misrepresenting age to obtain alcohol – If a person who is under the age of 21 violates this provision it will be considered a civil disorderly person offense. If you are convicted of this specific offense you can be subject to a fine of at least $500. The court will also confiscate your driver’s license, suspend your license for six months, and forward the license and a report of the violation to the Division of Motor Vehicles, stating the first and last days of the suspension. This suspension is very broad and covers the right to operate any motor vehicle, which includes motorcycles and motorized bicycles.
  • Underage possession or consumption of alcohol – Absent an exception to the rule, if you or your child is found to be in possession or consuming alcohol, you can be subject to a fine of up to $250 for a first offense, and $350 for subsequent offenses.
  • Non-New Jersey residents – It is important to understand that if you are from out of state and violate the drinking law, you still can be subject to fines from the courts. The same fines and potential licenses suspensions periods apply to non-New Jersey residents. However, if you are from out of state, the court will not collect your or your child’s license. Rather, the court will submit its report to the New Jersey motor vehicle division, and notify the appropriate officials in the state where you hold a driver’s license of the suspension time period.

Facing Underage Drinking Charges? Our Experienced Atlantic City Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help

If your son or daughter is facing serious New Jersey state charges in Superior Court for underage possession of alcohol or consuming beer, wine, or liquor before age 21 he or she faces a disorderly persons offense which is criminal in nature and stays on one’s permanent record. An experienced Atlantic City criminal defense attorney of John J. Zarych can fight to protect your son or daughter from the full extent of legal consequences call (609) 616-4956 or contact us online.