Every year, thousands of high school and college students go to parties, hoping to get drunk. Unfortunately for them, it is against the law for someone under the age of 21 to purchase or possess alcohol.
If you or your child has been arrested for underage drinking, then you should contact a lawyer right away. Although this might seem like a harmless charge or something the prosecutor will dismiss, the reality is that a conviction could have unforeseen collateral consequences for any young person, and a vigorous defense is the best option.
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PENALTIES FOR POSSESSION OF ALCOHOL WHILE UNDERAGE
The penalties will depend on the defendant’s age. If they are under age 18, then penalties can include a fine up to $250 and/or up to 30 days in jail. If the defendant is at least 18 but under 21, then the possible fine can increase up to $1,000 and time in jail can increase up to 6 months. A defendant can also have their license suspended if they were caught in possession while in a motor vehicle.
There are limited exceptions where it is legal for someone under 21 to be in possession of alcohol. These include being in the presence of a parent or legal guardian and having their consent to possess alcohol. If the defendant is married, they can also have alcohol in the presence of their spouse, provided they are of legal age.
OTHER PRACTICE AREA CASES
PENALTIES FOR PURCHASING ALCOHOL WHILE UNDERAGE
The penalties for trying to buy alcohol are the same as for possession:
- If under 18, then a fine up to $250 and/or up to 30 days in jail
- If at least 18 but under 21, then a fine up to $1,000 and/or up to 6 months in jail
There is only one exception where a minor can purchase alcohol, which is purchasing alcohol as a confidential informant for the police.
DIVERSION PROGRAMS FOR MINORS
Ohio does not want to see its jails filled with minors arrested for possession or purchase of alcohol. The state realizes that there are many alternatives to incarceration, which can prevent a person from committing a crime again.
To this end, many jurisdictions in Ohio offer a diversion program. Bowling Green Municipal Court has its own diversion program, which has proven successful for many minors. Not everyone picked up is eligible. Instead, according to the court’s website, a defendant can qualify if the following is true:
- The defendant has no prior criminal convictions or convictions for driving under the influence
- The defendant has not participated in any diversion program before
- The defendant has no pending charges or citations in any court apart from minor traffic offenses
If eligible, the defendant has 5 months to complete the program, which will consist of an education program on alcohol education, supervised community service, and the payment of a non-refundable program fee. If successfully completed, the defendant will not face criminal charges, so this is definitely a program that our clients should consider.
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COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES OF A CONVICTION
A conviction for possessing or purchasing alcohol as a minor can cost your child more than money and time in jail. Many young people soon find that their criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor, makes it much harder for them to get established as adults:
- Potential employers might pull a criminal background check before deciding to interview for a job or make an offer.
- Many landlords run background checks before renting an apartment, and a criminal conviction could cause a landlord to toss your application into the rejection bin.
- Colleges and universities ask about criminal convictions and have been known to let them influence their decision about whether to admit an applicant into the school.
Instead of sitting back and hoping the prosecutor cuts your teen a break, hire a lawyer to look out for your child’s legal rights. Prosecutors often don’t have all the evidence they need for a conviction, so putting up a defense can often put the state on the defensive.
OPERATING A VEHICLE WHILE INTOXICATED AS A MINOR
If a defendant was arrested for driving a motor vehicle after drinking, then they could face additional penalties. Although the legal limit for adults is 0.08%, for minors the limit is only 0.02%. This amount or more alcohol in a minor’s breath will result in a failed breath test and possible OVI charges.
Minors with a BAC between 0.02% and 0.08% are facing a misdemeanor in the fourth degree. This could involve up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $250. An underage OVI will also add 4 points to a defendant’s driving record.
If a minor has a BAC of 0.08% or higher, then penalties are more severe. A defendant will face the same penalties as an adult and can see a license suspension up to 3 years, a fine up to $1,000, and up to a year in jail.
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FURNISHING ALCOHOL TO A MINOR
Adults can also get into legal trouble if they provide alcohol to someone under the age of 21. This is also true if the adults rent a hotel room or other accommodations knowing that minors will be using the space to drink alcohol. Anyone providing alcohol to a minor is facing serious penalties, such as 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
There are exceptions to the law, such as parents or legal guardians who provide alcohol to a minor in their presence. However, hosting a party for other people’s children clearly runs afoul of the law and opens adults up to significant legal liability should any child be injured or injure someone else.
SPEAK WITH A BOWLING GREEN, OH UNDERAGE DRINKING LAWYER
If you or your child has been arrested, now is the time to get experienced legal help. At Groth & Associates, we have extensive experience in underage drinking cases, and we can fight for a favorable resolution. Our legal team offers a free, confidential consultation to those who reach out to us today.