What started as a celebration ended in potentially serious consequences for a Lebanon Borough couple on May 17. Police, responding to a noise complaint, charged the couple with serving alcohol to minors after it was discovered that the approximately 40 party-goers included an undisclosed number of underage persons.(1)
Under New Jersey law, adults who serve alcohol to minors can be held liable if those minors are injured or killed as a result of their drinking. The adults can be charged for property damages and medical bills and can be sued for pain and suffering. (2)
In addition to the civil consequences, adults who enable underage drinking are subject to criminal charges. In New Jersey, it is a criminal offense to serve alcohol to anyone under 21 or to allow minors to use your home or property for the purpose of consuming alcoholic beverages. This offense carries a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail. Exceptions apply if the minor consumes alcohol in connection with a religious ceremony or observance or with the permission of a parent or guardian. (2)
Minors who purchase or consume alcoholic beverages in any public place, including schools, also face possible criminal charges which carry fines of $500 or higher. Minors caught drinking in a motor vehicle may also face a six-month suspension or postponement of their driving privileges. (2)
The law isn’t only about punishing violators however. Individual counties and municipalities are taking steps to educate and prevent underage drinking. Neighboring Warren County recently announced a series of town hall meetings on the hazards of underage drinking, scheduled over the next few weeks and sponsored by the Warren County Community Prevention Resources. (3) Other areas – such as Madison, NJ – are adopting “Good Samaritan” laws for reporting medical emergencies related to underage drinking. These are similar to a bill recently endorsed by Gov. Chris Christie and singer Jon Bon Jovi that allows people to report drug overdoses without fear of arrest for their own involvement with drugs. (4)
With prom season in high gear and graduation and summer holidays rapidly approaching, now is an important time to inform people of dangers and consequences of underage drinking for both the minor and the adult who may enable this behavior.