Recent press reports that an increase in out-of-control partying, drinking, drug use, and fighting by underage teens at the Jersey Shore has led multiple lawmakers to propose a reversal of recent criminal justice reforms.
The reforms, which prevent police from searching underage offenders, are meant to keep teens out of the criminal justice system for alcohol and marijuana use. However, officials claim that the reforms have emboldened teens to commit unruly and illegal acts while facing little to no consequences.
Since summer rolled in, popular New Jersey beach towns like Seaside Heights and Ocean City have reportedly seen hundreds of kids publicly drinking and smoking, setting off fireworks, and disrespecting police officers.
Decriminalization Laws in New Jersey
In early 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a decriminalization bill into law that eased penalties for underage drinking and marijuana possession. The reforms effectively prevent police from searching anyone under 21 for alcohol and marijuana. In fact, police officers found in violation of these reforms can even face charges themselves. Under the new laws, underage offenders are typically just given a warning, and if they are under 18, their parents are notified to come pick them up.
The Governor enacted these reforms with the goal of preventing juveniles from ending up with a criminal record. The bill also aims to combat the disproportionate number of black and brown teens that are arrested for drug possession and underage drinking.
What Walking Back Reforms Could Mean for New Jersey Teens
Both Mayor Jay Gillian of Ocean City and Mayor Anthony Vaz of Seaside Heights have commented on the increase in dangerous and unruly behavior over the past two summers at the Jersey Shore. Ocean City Police Chief Jay Prettyman is also a proponent of walking back reforms and reinstating penalties for underage drinking and marijuana possession. Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have proposed bills to reinstate fines and permit police officers to search underage suspects without the fear of facing charges themselves.
If these reforms are successfully overturned, teens could face damaging juvenile criminal charges for alcohol and marijuana possession. Even first-time offenders could be left without an alternative to criminal prosecution. Teens and young adults make stupid mistakes all the time, but a criminal record can follow your teen for life and seriously impact their future.
An Experienced New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
If your child is facing underage drinking or drug charges, you need New Jersey Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team. Lento and his Team have many years of experience defending the accused and will work tirelessly to protect your teen's rights and their future. Call (888) 535-3686 or contact us online to set up your consultation today.