Serving or Selling Alcohol to a Minor – 2C:33-17
boy with bottle in hands

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. 

questionWhat 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.

finesPenalties 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 beatHow 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 lawCase Law Analysis

In State v. Haarde, 554 A.2d 872, the defendant, who was over 18 but under 21, was charged with providing alcohol to minors. He was convicted, but on appeal he argued that the statute was intended only to apply to persons over the age of 21. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey rejected this argument, finding that the wording of the statute clearly prohibited anyone from providing alcohol to a minor. Further, they found that accepting the defendant’s argument would frustrate the intent of the Legislature, which was to prevent alcohol from being provided to minors by any adult.
In State of New Jersey in the Interest of D.J.F., 764 A.2d 472, the state appealed a determination by the lower court that the giving alcohol to minors provision 2C:33-17 applied only to persons over the age of 18. That court had dismissed the charge against the defendant. On appeal, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division reaffirmed the plain meaning of the statute, which read that “anyone” who provided alcohol to minors was guilty of an offense. They reversed the dismissal of the charge and remanded it back to the trial court for determination.
In State v. Feldman, 2006 WL 3432405, the two defendants were convicted in municipal court, and again by the Law Division on an appeal, of making their home available to underage persons for the purpose of drinking. They appealed to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, arguing, among other things, that the Law Division had made errors in their findings of fact. The Appellate Division reaffirmed that trial court determinations of credibility are given a lot of deference and won’t lightly be second-guessed. Effectively, the Appellate Division found that all of the appellants’ arguments lacked merit and affirmed the convictions.
In Estate of Narleski v. Gomes, 211 A.3d 737, the estate of a young man killed in a drunk driving crash sued the store owner who sold the driver the alcohol. That store owner tried to sue, in turn, the owners of the home where the drinking took place, alleging that the homeowners had a duty of care to prevent drinking in their home. The store owner was unsuccessful before a motions judge and had his claim against the homeowners denied. While the store owner tried to rely upon 2C:33-17 to ground his argument, the court found that 2C:33-17 applies only to those people who knowingly or purposefully facilitate underage drinking. On the evidence relied upon in this case, neither of the homeowners knowingly or purposefully did anything that would amount to facilitating underage drinking. Importantly, though, the court found that going forward a person who “is under the legal drinking age shall owe a common law duty to injured parties to desist from facilitating the drinking of alcohol by underage adults in his place of residence, regardless of whether he owns, rents, or manages the premises.” In other words, people under 21 who facilitate underage drinking in their homes may be civilly liable for damages arising out of that drinking.

first offenseConsequences 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. 

juvenilesConsequences 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.

diversionEnrolling 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. 

ExpungementExpunging 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. 

FAQsFrequently Asked Questions

Can minors drink alcohol with parents in New Jersey?

In general, a person under the age of 21 can legally drink in connection with a religious ceremony or at home under parental supervision.

Can a minor carry alcohol in the car?

NJ alcohol laws (2C:33-15) make it illegal for a person under the age of 21 to purchase, consume or possess any alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle. The same applies to schools and other public places. Individuals over age 18 but under age 21 will face charges as an adult.

Can someone under 21 drink alcohol at home?

On private property (including one’s home), a person under 21 can drink alcohol in the presence of and with permission from his/her parents.

Is drinking around a minor illegal?

It is legal in New Jersey to drink alcohol in the presence of minors.

Can a minor sit at a bar in NJ?

It is technically legal in New Jersey for a minor to enter a bar or any other place that sells alcohol. However, the establishment may not offer or serve or make alcohol available to the minor. This may be difficult to enforce somewhere like a bar where a lot of alcoholic beverages are served. For that reason, many bars do not allow entry to minors.

ContactWho 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.

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