Some people take a very liberal view of underage drinking, chalking it up to a rite of passage most high school or college students experience. Experimenting with alcohol may be relatively common, but that doesn’t mean it is a minor concern. Even if the teens involved avoid major mistakes like driving under the influence or getting into fights, there is always the potential for criminal consequences.
The legal drinking age is 21, which means that anyone under that age who has a drink (other than a sip of wine for religious ceremonies) breaks state laws. Having a few drinks with friends when they don’t intend to drive may not seem like a potentially life-changing decision, but it can be.
The age of the underage drinking affects the consequences
Whether the teen experimenting with alcohol is 15 or 19, drinking alcohol is still against the law. However, the way that the state handles the case may be slightly different. Minors under the age of 18 accused of alcohol-related crimes will end up in the juvenile court system. Those ages 18 to 20, however, will face prosecution in adult criminal court.
Instead of facing “minor in possession” charges, those under the age of 18 could end up being charged with delinquency instead of alcohol-related charges. That can have an impact on the criminal consequences of a conviction or guilty plea.
The potential penalties for minors in possession
Possession of alcohol by a minor, including intoxication or even the attempt to purchase alcohol, could result in a Class C misdemeanor charge. For those age 18 to 20, that means the penalties could include up to 60 days in jail, a fine as much as $500 and loss of driving privileges for up to a year.
Depending on how the juvenile court handles charges involving those under the age of 18, those same consequences could apply. However, the juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitation instead of punishment. That could mean that the consequences are different. In some cases, minors could receive probation, community service, alcohol abuse treatment or even placement in a group home as a result of an alcohol possession or delinquency charge.
Conviction carries more than just criminal penalties
For younger minors accused of an alcohol crime, it may seem like pleading guilty and asking the courts for mercy is the best route. However, any kind of conviction or guilty plea on a teen’s record could have an impact for years to come.
It could make getting any kind of job more difficult, while also impacting opportunities for college enrollment and financial aid. Mounting a thorough defense to the charges may be a better option, depending on your circumstances.