Underage drinking is something that the government cracks-down on in every state. Especially in New Jersey – and especially at heavily-vacationed beaches – police are always on the lookout for underage drinking.
If you are charged with underage drinking in New Jersey, it could affect your future. Jobs, school, and professional certifications ask questions about convictions, and underage drinking charges would go on your record. Plus, they hold expensive fines and can lose you your driving privileges. If you or your child has been charged with an underage drinking crime in Wildwood, call an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych.
Underage Drinking Charges in New Jersey
N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-15 is the main law that prohibits underage drinking. This makes it illegal for anyone under the drinking age (which is 21 years old), to consume alcohol in any of these places:
A “public conveyance” (public transportation)
A public place
A place of public assembly
This conspicuously leaves out private places, which means that the New Jersey law does not actually prohibit underage drinking in your own home.It is also illegal to purchase or possess alcohol in any of these places if you are under 21.
This law does have some exceptions. If you work somewhere that serves alcohol, it is not a crime to possess alcohol for your job. That protects servers and cooks who might be underage.
The strongest exception, though, is a protection for medical emergencies. Sometimes, underage drinkers make mistakes, drink too much, and need medical attention. If you follow certain rules, you can be immune from prosecution. To get this benefit, you must have:
Called 9-1-1 for another underage person,
Given your name during the call,
Been the first person to report the incident to 9-1-1, and
Stayed with the person until help arrived.
If you do all of these things, you are protected from punishment for underage drinking.
It is also illegal to provide alcohol to a minor, under N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-17. Nothing in that statute is written to exclude other underage drinkers from the penalties for this law. The only exceptions to this state law are that it is legal to give a minor alcohol:
When it is used for a religious service (e.g. church wine)
The alcohol is given to the minor as part of their job, by a licensed facility (e.g. the underage person is given alcohol to serve to a customer)
It is the underage person’s parent supplying the alcohol, and it is consumed in their presence
It is someone with the parent’s permission supplying the alcohol, and it is consumed in the parent’s presence
This also covers leaving alcohol at a place so that underage drinkers can consume it. That means parents who leave a fridge full of beer at their beach house for their family to drink could also be convicted.
There is a separate law under N.J.S.A. § 33:1-81 that also makes it illegal to get (or try to get) a bar or restaurant to serve you when you are under 21, whether or not you use a fake ID or lie about your age.
Punishments for Underage Drinking
The general punishment for underage drinking can be extremely steep. N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-15 classifies the crime as a “disorderly persons offense.” Usually, disorderly persons offenses can be punished by up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000, not including court costs and other assessments. That is an extremely harsh penalty for something that seems so minor. The statute also limits a judge’s discretion for the penalty, since the fine must be at least $500.
On top of this, if you are caught with alcohol while you are in a car – even if the car was not moving, you were not driving, or the alcohol was sealed – you can lose your driving privileges. If you already have a license in New Jersey, it will be immediately taken from you in court, and you will be suspended for 6 months. If you are under 17 years old and a New Jersey resident, this means you cannot get your license until you are 17 and a half years old. If you have an out-of-state driver’s license, New Jersey will revoke your privilege to drive in New Jersey, but will not take your license. They will, though, report the suspension to your home state, which may be able to take its own actions to suspend your license.
You can also face these license suspensions if you violate N.J.S.A. § 33:1-81 by trying to get served alcohol in a bar or restaurant (or use a fake ID). Courts in New Jersey can also have people who violate these laws participate in alcohol education or treatment programs.
For supplying alcohol to a minor, the crime is classified as another disorderly persons offense, holding the same potential for up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
Wildwood, New Jersey also has its own city ordinances that punish minors for drinking alcohol and those who supply minors with alcohol. This can mean additional fines from the City of Wildwood. They will also report offenses to the authorities to suspend your driving privileges.
Wildwood, New Jersey Underage Drinking Lawyer
If you or your child has been charged with underage drinking or supplying alcohol to a minor, you should speak to a lawyer about your case. The Law Offices of John J. Zarych handle underage drinking charges, and supplying alcohol to a minor charges, in Wildwood and throughout South Jersey. For a free, no obligations consultation, call us at (609) 616-4956.