It may not seem like a big deal to give a little bit of alcohol to a teenager or friend under the age of 21. Moreover, if one knows the youths will get alcohol anyway, it may seem prudent to allow them to drink in one’s own home under close supervision.
Police may not see it that way, however. In New Jersey, giving alcohol to a minor is a crime that can result in significant penalties. Thankfully, there are ways to defend against this charge and avoid the worst consequences.
What does it Mean to Serve Alcohol to A Minor?
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-17, New Jersey prohibits purposely or knowingly serving alcohol, selling alcohol, or making alcohol available to anyone who is under 21. A person who entices or encourages a minor to drink an alcoholic beverage can also be convicted of this crime.
Additionally, it is also a crime for a person to leave his/her property in the care of another person with the purpose of having alcoholic beverages made available on the premises for consumption by minors. This second component of the law is designed to close a potential loophole in which a homeowner intends to provide alcohol to a person or persons under the legal age but is not around when it happens.
Penalties and Fines
Furnishing alcohol to a minor is disorderly persons offense in New Jersey. Those convicted face up to 6 months in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, and a criminal record.
Giving alcohol to a minor can also result in other charges, depending on the circumstances. Such charges might include underage drinking (if the server is also under 21).
Moreover, New Jersey’s Social Host Liability Law imposes civil penalties on those who serve alcohol to minors who subsequently are involved in accidents causing injury or death. This means a person could be facing both criminal and civil penalties for providing a minor with alcohol.
How To Beat A Charge of Serving Alcohol to A Minor
There are several exceptions to the law preventing adults from providing alcohol to minors:
- The server is the parent or legal guardian of the minor and is above the legal age to consume alcohol.
- The consumption of alcohol pertains to religious observance, ceremony, or rite.
- The server is providing alcohol to another parent’s child in the presence of and with the permission of that parent (as long as that parent is of the legal age to consume alcohol).
If none of these circumstances apply, then a more strategic defense may be required. This could require having evidence suppressed (i.e. it cannot be used against one in court). In many cases, it is often wisest to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charge to a lesser offense, preferably one that does not result in a criminal record.
Case Law Analysis
Consequences for a First Offense
Many minor offenses in New Jersey carry a presumption of non-incarceration (PNI) for a first offense. This means that if the person has no prior history, the judge should refrain from sentencing a person to jail/prison.
This may seem like quite the break, but a person charged with giving alcohol to a minor should not assume that he/she will get off easy. Firstly, there are many aggravating factors that can scuttle a PNI, such as being charged with additional offenses at the same time.
Secondly, even if a person is sentenced to probation and/or community service, it still means he/she has been convicted and now has a criminal record. This could make it difficult to get or hold onto a job, as well as affect where one can live or even go to school.
No matter the situation, it is always best to consult with an attorney for help with a charge of providing alcohol to a minor.
Consequences for Juveniles
Technically, a juvenile (child under 18) can also be charged with providing a minor with alcohol (see above case law). However, it is far more likely that a parent or other adult would be charged with this offense while the juvenile is charged with underage drinking. Regardless of the circumstances, it is critical that one contact an attorney right away if one’s child has been charged with any alcohol-related offense.
Enrolling in NJ Diversionary Programs
As an alternative to going to trial to fight a charge of giving alcohol to a minor, a person could potentially apply for a Conditional Discharge. This is a diversionary program that offers a chance to avoid jail time and a conviction.
Diversionary programs are designed for each enrollee’s specific situation and the offense he/she has been charged with. It may require a person to perform community service, attend alcohol counseling, and/or report to a probation officer. A judge will decide the specifics.
If the program is completed successfully, the charges will be dropped—no criminal record, no jail time. If the program is not completed, the case will be taken to trial.
Conditional Discharge and other diversionary programs are difficult to get into, and not all who qualify are accepted. It is best to consult with one’s attorney before attempting to enroll.
Expunging A Conviction for Serving Alcohol to A Minor
As a disorderly persons offense, a conviction for serving alcohol to a minor can be expunged from one’s criminal record if one is otherwise eligible. In order to file a petition for expunging a criminal record, a person must have no more than 5 disorderly persons offenses or 3 disorderly persons offenses and 1 indictable offense.
In addition, a person must wait 4 years (6 if the record has an indictable offense conviction) after completing any sentencing and repaying any fines. Expungement petitions are very detailed, and it is critical that it be completed thoroughly and accurately. This is why it makes sense to hire an attorney to help file the petition.
An attorney can ensure that the petition is complete and accurate. If a hearing with a judge is required, the attorney can present the facts and make arguments with the best chance of convincing the judge to grant the expungement.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one was recently charged with furnishing a minor with alcohol, contact the attorneys at Rosenblum Law today. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys have helped many people charged with alcohol-related offenses and other crimes. We can defend your legal rights and do what we can to have your charges dismissed. E-mail or call us today at 888-815-3649.