New Jersey, along with the majority of other states in the nation, enforces laws that limit alcohol access for people who are under the legal drinking age of 21. But as time progresses, the number of cases involving underage individuals in possession of alcohol continues to rise in the state.
If you are under the legal drinking age, chances are that the opportunity to obtain alcohol has presented itself many times. For people in this demographic, it is easier than ever to get their hands on alcoholic beverages. Whether you come across alcohol at a party, at school, or in your friend's dorm, being caught with an alcoholic beverage - whether you have been drinking it or not - could lead to a criminal charge of minor in possession.
Many defendants in minor possession cases are adults but under the age of 21. For the purposes of this article, we will address the laws and penalties regarding this charge in New Jersey.
What Constitutes Minor in Possession in New Jersey
According to New Jersey statutes (N.J.S.A 2C:33-15), it is against the law to purchase, knowingly possess, or consume alcohol while under the legal drinking age of 21. This law encompasses a number of underage alcohol-related legal issues. it is also unlawful for minors to enter establishments where alcohol is sold and to use false identification to misrepresent their age to induce the sale, service, or delivery of alcohol.
New Jersey law recognizes three exceptions to the general rule prohibiting minors from possessing alcohol:
- The minor obtained alcohol for religious purposes: a minor may possess alcohol in connection to a religious ceremony or observance.
- The minor obtained alcohol with permission from adult family members: a minor may possess alcohol if a legal guardian gives them permission.
- The minor obtained alcohol for employment purposes: minors can possess, but not consume, alcohol during the course of employment in an establishment licensed to sell alcohol.
- The minor obtained alcohol for education purposes: minors can possess alcoholic beverages if it involves their education (like wine making or tasting in culinary school).
Minor in possession is a disorderly person's offense. A disorderly person's offense is generally known as a misdemeanor in other states. If the individual is under the age of 18, he or she will not be charged as an adult, but as a juvenile. In a case like that, the courts will have a hearing in order to determine whether or not the juvenile will be adjudicated. Individuals over the age of 18 but under age 21 will face adult charges.
Minor in Possession Penalties in New Jersey
The legal ramifications for a minor in possession conviction depend on the nature of the crime and a person's criminal history. But generally, underage people face the following penalties:
- Fines between $500 and $1,000
- A potential jail sentence of up to 180 days
- Attendance to a six-month treatment program
If a person is over the age of 18 and under the age of 21 is caught with alcohol in a vehicle - even if said person wasn't driving - their driver's license will be suspended for six months.
If the person caught possessing alcohol is under the age of 18, a delinquency hearing will be held. The court will likely order a minor to enter a residential alcohol treatment center. They may lose their driving privileges for up to six months. If the minor doesn't have a valid driver's license, the suspension will postpone his or her eligibility to obtain one.
Overall, in a minor in possession case, your fate will be in the judge's hands. Judge's have the discretion to cut you some slack or carry out the full extent of the law. Their decision will be based on a number of factors, including the nature of your arrest, your criminal history, your BAC, the officer's testimony, and other relevant factors. These penalty guidelines are strictly suggested by the law as sentencing direction for judges, it doesn't mean that a conviction will lead to these exact ramifications.
New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
If you're under the age of 21 and you're caught with alcohol the stakes can be high. A criminal record can severely limit opportunities before they come. But if it's proven that your arrest was unlawful or an officer's actions strayed from protocol, there's a good chance your charges could be dismissed.
With so much on the line, the best thing you can do is contact a seasoned criminal defense attorney. The sooner a legal representative can get on your case, the more time they have to build a solid defense. In New Jersey, a DWI is an offense that requires skilled and aggressive representation.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the experience and credentials to defend and counsel people who've acquired DWI charges. He will explain your pending charges, build a solid defense and work towards getting your charges reduced or dropped. For more information about Mr. Lento's representation, contact the Lento Law Firm either online or by phone at 888-535-3686.