All too often in my practice I have encountered people and parents who think that underage drinking is no big deal. Often times, people will even encourage their children to drink and make alcohol available to their friends as well. Any person who considers engaging in this type of behavior should be aware that it is illegal. The state of New Jersey does not consider underage drinking a “harmless rite of passage” and has made it illegal not just for underage people to drink, but for those over the legal age to assist them.
The statute against providing alcohol to minors is outlined in 2C: 33-17 the first type of conduct prohibited is serving or making available alcoholic beverages to a person under the age for consuming alcohol, currently 21. This also applies if the person entices or encourages the underage person to consume alcohol.
There are several exceptions to this prohibition. A parent or guarding of a child may give him alcohol if the parent is over the legal age or the alcohol is being consumed as part of a religious right. Also, if a third party is a guest in that parents home and is also of legal age, he may likewise serve alcohol to the underage person with the parent’s permission. In this case, the parent or guardian must be of legal age.
Keep in mind that even if a parent or guardian offers alcohol to a minor where that minor is in violation of 2C:33-17 underage drinking can also be charged with an offense. This occurs if the minor is in a public place, a school or an automobile.
The second type of conduct forbids a person who owns, leases, or manages real property makes that property available to people under the legal age to drink alcohol, or if they leave that property in the care of another with the intent that they make it available to underage people to drink alcohol.
There are some exceptions to this rule. If the person making the property available or leaving it in the care of another is the parent or legal guardian of the underage person consuming alcohol the statute does not apply. Likewise, if the consumption is part of a religious ceremony, the statute will also not apply.
A person does not have to be 21 to be convicted under this statute. Even a minor can be convicted if he his conduct meets every element.
Offenses under this statute are disorderly persons offenses and are punishable by up to a $1,000.00 fine as well as up to 180 days in jail. You should also be aware that if a minor is hurt as a result of his intoxication, you may be subject to civil liability that will make the fines seem like pocket change. It is also worth mentioning, that I have seen instances where the Division of Child Protection and Permanency steps in citing the parents charged under this statute with abuse and neglect. This cannot only lead to lengthy court proceedings and court orders to attend services, but can sometimes result in children being removed from the home.
If you have been charged under this statute don’t go into court without first consulting an attorney. There may be many rights and legal defenses available to you that you would not otherwise take advantage of. Call my office at (732) 742-5556. I will be happy to discuss your case with you. As always, first consultations are free.