Over a quarter-million or 24.2% of New Jersey’s underage population consumed alcohol, according to a recent state report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). More than 1 in 4 of those underage drinkers were of either middle or high school age – critical ages for social and educational development.
No teenager or young adult should be forced to deal with the costly and restrictive penalties that come with underage drinking charges. At Clark & Noonan, LLC, our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers understand that people make mistakes, and we will work to secure the best possible outcome for your child.
We are former state prosecutors with in-depth knowledge of New Jersey’s underage drinking laws. We will do everything in our power to get the charges against your child reduced or dropped. Call our offices to speak with one of our skilled attorneys, and let us help your child during their time of need. The consultation is free and confidential.
Underage Drinking Laws in New Jersey
New Jersey’s public officials have clearly outlined the parameters of legality for underage drinking. Even the underage public possession of alcohol is an offense.
According to section N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15 of the New Jersey Criminal Code, “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.”
Furthermore, section N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15 states, “Whenever this offense is committed in a motor vehicle, the court shall, in addition to the sentence authorized for the offense, suspend or postpone for six months the driving privilege of the defendant.”
If you are convicted of drinking and driving before you’ve received your license, it will be suspended for six months once you are eligible to get your license. It is crucial to note that even a BAC that is below 0.08% (the legal limit for adults in New Jersey) could still result in a DWI charge. This means that a minor could be convicted of driving while intoxicated even after a single alcoholic beverage.
It’s also illegal in the state of New Jersey for minors to buy alcohol, to have or use a false ID, to falsely represent their age to buy alcohol, or to have an individual of legal age buy alcohol for them. Illegally furnishing alcohol for minors can lead to severe criminal charges for the of-age buyer.
While these laws may have a noble aim—to protect youths from the dangers of drunk driving and other consequences—they are not always applied accurately, evenly, or fairly. Remember that a criminal charge doesn’t automatically mean that you will be convicted, and you have the right to fight back.
What Are the Penalties for Underage Drinking in New Jersey?
The penalties for violating underage drinking laws in New Jersey can be severe. If convicted, you could lose your driving privileges for up to six months. You may also face a disorderly person conviction, and you could be fined $500 or more.
Underage drinkers are charged with a disorderly person offense they knowingly possess or consume any amount of alcoholic beverage. If they consume or possess an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle, then the defendant’s driving privileges can be suspended for six months.
If your child is facing a criminal charge for underage drinking, you may feel overwhelmed. It’s normal to be stressed, anxious, and frustrated. At Clark & Noonan, LLC, we believe that alcohol-related mistakes don’t have to lead to serious penalties.
Our goal will be to get the charges reduced or dropped entirely. We will examine the circumstances surrounding your child’s case, will review their record (if one exists), and will evaluate all the options available.
If there’s already been a conviction, we can determine if expungement is an option.
Defenses to Prosecution for Underage Drinking
When you contact Clark & Noonan, we’ll discuss whether your child’s alcohol use fell under one of the exceptions that New Jersey state law makes for underage alcohol possession and consumption. There are even some situations in which a minor may be exempt from facing criminal charges.
Circumstances in which a minor can lawfully possess or consume alcohol include:
- While performing duties as expected while preparing food for a hotel or restaurant with an employment permit from the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control
- While actively enrolled in a culinary arts or hotel management program
- While consuming alcohol as a part of a religious ceremony
- While at home and supervised by their parental guardian
Circumstances in which a minor may be immune to facing criminal charges include:
- If the minor is the first to call 911 in the case of a medical emergency involving underage alcohol consumption
- And provides their name and the names of up to two other underage drinkers, who may also be rendered immune from prosecution
- And stays on the scene to assist the individual in need of medical attention, remaining cooperative with authorities and other such personnel
Even if none of the exceptions apply, it may still be possible to find problems with the prosecution’s case. For example, the charges could have resulted from an illegal search and seizure on the part of the police.
Because the circumstances surrounding each case will be different, be sure to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your situation.
Underage Drinking FAQs
If your child has been accused of underage drinking, you likely have many questions about the charges they face, the potential penalties, and what can be done to protect them. Our experienced New Jersey underage drinking lawyers will be ready to answer all of your specific questions during a free, confidential consultation.
We’ve also provided the answers to some frequently asked questions here.
Can minors consume alcohol with parental permission in New Jersey?
According to New Jersey’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, “A person must be 21 years of age or older to legally purchase or consume any alcoholic beverage on a licensed premises. There is absolutely no exception to this. (N.J.S.A. 9:17B-1) However, persons under the age of 21 can legally drink in connection with a religious ceremony or at home under parental supervision.”
What is the maximum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for an underage driver?
It is illegal for a minor to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, no matter how low their blood alcohol concentration. If an underage driver’s BAC is even 0.01 percent, they can face criminal charges. The safest choice is to avoid alcohol when you drive or designate someone to do so.
Can I expunge my record of an underage drinking conviction?
Many individuals are able to clear their record of underage drinking charges. To do so, you’ll need to meet several legal requirements before you can successfully expunge your record in New Jersey. Contact one of our knowledgeable attorneys to find out if you’re eligible to have your record expunged.
How Can a New Jersey Underage Drinking Defense Lawyer Help Me?
An experienced defense attorney will examine the case against you and will determine the best defense to mount on your behalf. It may include challenging the circumstances of the arrest or citation, or the officer’s account of what happened.
It could also include demonstrating that you were in a situation in which you legally could possess or consume alcohol like those mentioned above. It may also be possible to enter a plea bargain or seek reduced charges.