New Jersey Laws Regarding Alcohol, Minors, and DWI

NCDOTcommunications [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], via FlickrNew Jersey law regulates alcohol in numerous ways, from licensing sellers to penalizing the possession of alcohol by minors. These laws are distributed among various state codes, including the provisions on driving while intoxicated (DWI) found in Title 39, “Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation.” Laws dealing with the possession of alcohol by minors, defined as anyone under the age of 21 years, are found in both Title 33, “Intoxicating Liquors,” and Title 2C, the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. Local governments in New Jersey, such as cities and boroughs, may enact their own ordinances regarding MIP, which has created some interesting legal history. The offense of minor in possession of alcohol (MIP) has some similarities to DWI law in New Jersey.

The most obvious similarity between DWI and MIP is that they both involve alcohol. They may also both result in a driver’s license suspension. If we look a bit deeper, we see that neither offense is generally considered “criminal” under state law. DWI is a traffic violation, while MIP is a “disorderly persons offense,” meaning that it can only result in a fine, not jail time, and it does not result in a criminal conviction record—although it might still appear in a background check. Since prosecutions for DWI or MIP are not considered criminal proceedings, a defendant is not entitled by law to a trial by jury or other features of the criminal justice system.

The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice states that a minor commits an offense if they “knowingly possess[ alcohol] without authority,” or if they “knowingly consume[]” alcohol in public, in a school, or in a motor vehicle. If the person is in a vehicle, the statute imposes an additional penalty of six months’ license suspension, apparently regardless of whether the person was driving.

Another New Jersey statute prohibits minors from entering “premises licensed for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages” with the intention of obtaining alcohol, from purchasing or consuming alcohol on such premises, or from misrepresenting their age for the purpose of obtaining alcohol. These are also considered disorderly persons offenses, punishable by a minimum fine of $500 and a six-month driver’s license suspension.

Some local ordinances impose stricter limitations on minors. A controversial type of ordinance adopted by some New Jersey towns, ostensibly to crack down on underage drinking, prohibits minors from possessing or consuming alcohol on private property, including residences. Police still cannot enter a private residence without a warrant or probable cause, based on the Fourth Amendment’s restrictions on searches and seizures, but this type of ordinance has allegedly enabled police to exceed their authority.

In the late 1990s, a class action filed against Avalon, a borough on Seven Mile Island in southern New Jersey, alleged various civil rights violations. Avalon police had reportedly begun using a repurposed school bus—nicknamed the “Magic Bus”—to round up underage attendees at private parties, resulting in around 500 arrests during the summer of 1997 alone.

The plaintiffs alleged that police arrested and charged people who were not in “possession” of alcohol in violation of their due process rights. The borough settled the lawsuit for about $1.5 million in 1999. It repealed the ordinance around the same time, but similar practices may have resumed not long afterwards.

An experienced and skilled DWI attorney can help you understand your rights and prepare a strong case for you. Contact Levow DWI Law online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team to discuss your New Jersey DWI case.

More Blog Posts:

How Federal Law Could Affect a New Jersey DWI Case, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 22, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Limits Police Authority During Traffic Stops, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 9, 2015

Other Offenses Commonly Associated with DWI in New Jersey, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, December 6, 2014

Photo credit: By AlexJ (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.