As parents, we want to see our teenagers enjoy good times with friends. At the same time, we want to keep them safe, too.
Allowing your teen to have a house party may seem like an ideal way for the teen to have fun while still being under your watch. However, teen parties can also easily cross the line and lead to teen drinking.
As a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer who works with teens charged with underage drinking and parents who face social host liability issues, I want you to be aware of the potential consequences that you and your child could face if alcohol is consumed at your house party.
Consequences for Underage Drinking in New Jersey
First, let’s take a look at the laws that apply to underage drinking in New Jersey.
In our state, the law is clear: You cannot possess or consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. (See N.J.S.A. 9:17B-1.) There are a few exceptions to this rule, which we will address below.
If you are under age 21, and you are caught with an alcoholic beverage at a school, in a public place or in a motor vehicle, you could be charged with a disorderly persons offense. You could face a minimum fine of $500, and you could lose your driver’s license for six months. If you are under age 17 at the time of the offense, your license would be suspended until six months after you turn age 17. (See N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15.)
Additionally, under N.J.S.A. 40:48-1.2, a municipality can enact an ordinance that makes it illegal for a person under age 21 to possess or consume alcohol on private property. If your municipality has such an ordinance, and you are caught violating it, then you could face a $250 fine for a first offense and a $350 fine for any subsequent offenses. Also, you could lose your driver’s license for up to six months.
Now, let’s look at the laws that apply to providing alcohol to minors in New Jersey. Specifically, the law you should be concerned with is N.J.S.A. 2C: 33-17.
Under this law, you could be charged with a disorderly persons offense if you purposely or knowingly offer, serve or simply “make available” an alcoholic beverage to an underage person.
The only exceptions to this law apply where the alcohol is provided to a minor (1) who is your child, (2) as part of a religious observance or (3) in the presence of and with the permission of the minor’s parent or guardian.
So, as you can see, if you allow your teen to host a house party where alcohol is served to other minors, you could potentially face serious criminal consequences.
Ways to Avoid Legal Trouble When Hosting Teen Parties
The first rule to follow is simple: Never knowingly allow alcoholic beverages to be served at your teen’s house party.
Additionally, the Alcohol Education Trust recommends parents take the following actions to ensure alcohol is not served at a party they host:
- Ask your child who is coming to the party and check to see if any of the teen’s friends have a reputation for drinking.
- Prohibit your teen from posting an open invitation on social media, which could bring unwelcome guests.
- While your teen will want you to stay out of sight, stay close enough to oversee how the party is going.
- Watch for guests who may attempt to sneak alcohol into your teen’s party.
- If anyone becomes sick or appears drunk, notify their parents immediately.
Keep in mind: A disorderly persons offense is nothing to take lightly. The possibility of jail, fines and the loss of a driver’s license are serious matters. If you or your teen has been charged with a disorderly persons offense related to teen or underage drinking, you should get in touch with an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Our law firm can get to work on your case right away and review all of the options that may be available, including seeking a dismissal or reduction of the charge or enrollment in a pretrial intervention program. We also can assist with getting a disorderly persons offense expunged. Contact us today to discuss your case.