The legal age to drink in New Jersey is 21. It is also illegal to make alcohol available to minors in this state and every other state in the U.S. However, that does not stop some parents and other adults from providing alcohol to those under the age of 21. Sometimes, parents aren’t even aware underage people are consuming alcohol at their house. In other cases, parents may choose to provide alcohol in the home to children and friends because they think “they are going to do it anyway; at least we can keep an eye on them.” Either scenario can land parents in legal hot water, as police can charge you with a serious criminal offense for having a house party where young people are drinking underage. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning a party at the Jersey Shore or anywhere else in New Jersey.
New Jersey law considers anyone who serves alcohol to minors a “disorderly person.” This definition applies even if you are merely making alcohol available to those under the age of 21, not actually serving it. However, there are a few exceptions to this general rule, including:
- Situations where the parent or guardian provides alcohol to their own child (assuming the parent is above the legal drinking limit);
- The alcohol is provided as part of a religious observance, ceremony, or right; or
- Circumstances where the underage person is in the presence of their parent or guardian and consumes alcohol with the parent’s permission.
These exceptions to the overarching rule anticipate that a group of parents could get together and allow their children to drink under their supervision. But, that would be the only situation where providing alcohol to several minors would be okay under New Jersey law. Allowing your child to have a house party and serve alcohol to others, even under your supervision would be illegal. This can become especially difficult to monitor if your child is 21 but some of his or her friends may not yet be of legal age to drink alcohol.
Adults who leave their homes or other property available for others to use for underage drinking can also be convicted of a disorderly persons offense in NJ. There is an exception for your own child, but that is where the exception ends. This means that you cannot leave your home for the evening with the expectation that your teen is going to throw a party involving alcohol.
Penalties for House Parties and Underage Drinking in New Jersey
As mentioned, if you are charged with providing alcohol to minors in NJ, this is considered a disorderly persons offense. A disorderly persons offense usually will not correspond with any jail time if this is your first offense. However, you can still be sentenced to serve up to six months in county jail. You can also expect a fine of up to $1,000. Disorderly persons charged are handled in the municipal court in the municipality in which you were charged.
Apart from the immediate legal consequences, it also necessary to consider other ramifications for such a charge. For example, a disorderly persons conviction will stay on your criminal record. That means that it will show up on a background check, which can affect you in other ways, such as in your ability to obtain employment. You likely can get this charge expunged, but there is a five-year waiting period to take that kind of action.
Of course, the minor that you provide alcohol to will also face his or her own separate charges as well. Underage drinking is also a disorderly persons offense, which comes with a fine of not less than $500 and potential jail time of up to six months. The young person will also have a criminal record, which can present a serious problem when applying to colleges, for internships, and for jobs in the future.
Get Help from an Underage Alcohol Defense Lawyer in Ocean County, NJ
If you or your child are facing charges related to underage drinking, you need an attorney who can work to have the charges downgraded or dismissed. The team at William Proetta Criminal Law can help, but do not wait to call to speak with one of our experienced criminal defense lawyers. We can be reached anytime at (848) 238-2100 or online. With offices in Toms River, we represent parents and minors against alcohol charges in Seaside Heights, Brick, Point Pleasant, Lavallette, Manchester, Lacey Township, Long Beach Island, and communities throughout the Jersey Shore.