All states prohibit individuals 20 and younger from consuming or possessing alcoholic beverages. There are, however, certain conditions where it is legal for the underage person. Even when it is within these legal conditions, it is still possible for the child to face charges. This is especially true when the underaged drinker is pulled over on suspicion of driving while under the influence, and there is even the underage DUI penalty.
The exceptions to the rule
Typical situations where underage drinking is legal are:
- Private property: Underage drinking on private property is legal if both the property owner and the underage drinker’s parents consent.
- Educational reasons: This typically involves restaurant employees tasting the menu at work or taking a class. The underage drinker must spit it out after tasting regardless of the circumstance.
- Food: There may be traces of wine, beer or other alcoholic beverages in a recipe, but there are regulations regarding the amounts.
- Religious grounds: There may be certain rites during a religious ceremony (such as wine blessed by the priest during the Catholic eucharist) that involve consuming an alcoholic beverage.
- Hygienic or medical reasons: These are legal grounds.
The authorities typically do not press charges if an underage drinker calls 911 to request help for someone in danger or injured. They should remain at the scene and cooperate with the police.
Standard charges for illegal consumption of alcohol
Underage drinkers who illegally consume alcoholic beverages can face a range of charges, including driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher or driving while ability impaired involves a lower BAC than .08. Either charge could come with severe penalties if the driver caused injuries to others. Lesser offenses like public intoxication will still likely involve fines and penalties. Convictions for any alcohol-related charge can also have a long-term impact, including college eligibility, financial aid, job prospects and higher insurance rates. Convictions also can mean more serious charges if arrested again.
Fighting charges is often the best option
While it is unlikely that those engaging in the noted exceptions will be charged, all others will likely be penalized even if a plea deal lessens the penalties or charges. Parents may want to “teach their child a lesson” by not fighting the charges, which may cause long-term implications and otherwise avoidable penalties.