The Kugel Law Firm's Blog

Unopened Alcohol in Car While Under 21 in New Jersey

Posted on June 7, 2023


It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 in New Jersey to consume, purchase, or possess alcoholic beverages. This includes not only beer, wine, and liquor but also any other beverages containing alcohol, such as hard seltzer or mixed drinks. The only exceptions to this rule are if a minor is consuming alcohol as part of a religious ceremony or if an underage employee is handling alcohol in the course of their job duties (e.g., a server or bartender) and is under proper supervision.

However, it is important to note that even in these cases, the minor is still not allowed to consume or possess alcohol for any reason other than the specific exception granted. New Jersey’s drinking laws are enforced strictly, and both minors and adults can face severe penalties for violating these statutes. 

If you or a minor under your care have been charged with underage drinking or possession of alcoholic substances, getting the help of an experienced New Jersey underage DUI attorney is crucial. At The Kugel Law Firm, our knowledgeable New Jersey DUI lawyers can assist you in navigating the complexities of New Jersey’s laws on underage alcohol possession and drinking. Contact us today at (973) 854-0098 to schedule a free strategy session.  

Underage Drinking and Alcohol Possession Laws in New Jersey

New Jersey has “zero-tolerance” laws when it comes to underage drinking and driving. These laws make it illegal for anyone under 21 to drive with any amount of alcohol in their system. If a minor is caught with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or higher, they can be charged with an underage DUI.

Purchasing and Possession of Alcohol

It is illegal for minors to purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol in New Jersey. Using a fake ID, obtaining alcohol through an adult, or any other means to procure alcohol is against the law and can lead to penalties for both the minor and the adult involved (if applicable).

In addition, adults can also face charges for providing alcohol to minors. This can include purchasing alcohol for a person under 21, allowing underage individuals to consume alcohol on their property, or knowingly allowing underage drinking to occur in their presence, with some exceptions. Penalties for adults who provide alcohol to minors can include fines, community service, and even imprisonment in some cases.

Furthermore, possession of alcohol by a minor is also illegal, regardless of whether they intend to consume it or not. This means that if a minor is caught with alcohol in their possession, they can face penalties regardless of whether they drank any.

Consequences for Underage Drinking

Underage drinking can lead to a range of penalties in New Jersey, depending on the specific circumstances of the offense. Some potential consequences for minors who violate the state’s drinking laws include:

  • Fines: Monetary fines can vary but can reach up to $1,000 depending on the severity of the offense.
  • Jail time: A conviction of underage drinking can result in up to six months in jail.
  • Substance abuse education: Minors who are caught drinking or possessing alcohol may be required to attend alcohol education or treatment programs, which are designed to help prevent future alcohol-related offenses.
  • License suspension: If a minor is caught drinking and driving, they can face a license suspension for up to 90 days or even longer, depending on their BAC level and any prior offenses on their record. Moreover, for minors who do not yet have a driver’s license, the issuance of their first license may be delayed as a result of an underage drinking offense.
  • Criminal record: Having a record for an underage drinking offense can make it difficult for minors to secure jobs, housing, or educational opportunities in the future.

These penalties are intended to serve as both a punishment and a deterrent to help curb underage drinking. However, it is essential to remember that besides these penalties, a minor convicted of a DUI or alcohol possession can experience additional, long-lasting consequences. A seasoned New Jersey underage DUI attorney can provide legal guidance and aggressive representation to minors facing charges of underage drinking in New Jersey.

Consequences for Underage Drinking in New Jersey Description
Fines Monetary fines can vary but can reach up to $1,000 depending on the severity of the offense.
Jail time A conviction of underage drinking can result in up to six months in jail.
Substance abuse education Minors who are caught drinking or possessing alcohol may be required to attend alcohol education or treatment programs.
License suspension Suspension of driver’s license for up to 90 days or longer, depending on BAC level and prior offenses.
Criminal record Having a record for an underage drinking offense can impact future job, housing, and educational opportunities.

New Jersey’s Open Container Laws

An open container is defined as any receptacle that contains alcohol or alcoholic beverages which have been opened, has a broken seal, or where the contents of the container have been partially removed. This includes, but is not limited to, beer cans, liquor bottles, wine bottles, and cups containing alcoholic beverages. Even if the container is capped or in the process of being consumed, it can still be considered an open container under New Jersey law. The specific statute that governs open container laws in New Jersey is N.J.S.A. 39:4-51a and 51b.

Open Container Restrictions

Under New Jersey law, open containers of alcohol are expressly prohibited in the passenger area of a motor vehicle or inside any public space, regardless of whether the vehicle is parked, stopped, or moving. The passenger area of a motor vehicle includes any part of the vehicle designed to seat the driver and passengers, and any part that is readily accessible to the driver or passengers while in their seating positions. 

New Jersey’s open container laws do not only apply to drivers. Passengers are also not allowed to possess or consume alcohol in a vehicle. These restrictions are designed to prevent accidents caused by impaired drivers as well as to discourage drinking and driving.

In New Jersey, there are some exceptions to the open container laws. In certain cases, individuals may be permitted to transport opened containers of alcohol in a locked glove compartment, behind the last upright seat in the vehicle, or follow specific regulations for the transportation of alcohol.

Definitions of Vehicle and Public Spaces

The New Jersey open container law applies to all kinds of motor vehicles, including cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and recreational vehicles. Additionally, the law applies to public spaces, which are defined as any area open to the public, such as sidewalks, parks, sports venues, and parking lots.

Open container laws apply even if you are a passenger in a vehicle, not just the driver. This extends to taxis, limousines, or other hired vehicles, although some exceptions apply.

Consequences for Violating Open Container Laws

Drivers and passengers found violating New Jersey’s open container laws can face a range of penalties, including fines, suspension of driving privileges, and on some occasions, jail time. If both a driver and passenger are found to be in violation, they might both be charged and convicted.

A first-time offender may face a fine between $200 and $1000, court costs, and possible community service. A second offense may result in a higher fine, a driver’s license suspension, and increased insurance rates. Subsequent convictions could lead to more severe penalties, including a permanent revocation of driving privileges.

Unopened Alcohol in Car While Under 21

There are a variety of legal defenses and exceptions that may be applicable when a person is accused of violating the law against underage possession of alcohol in a vehicle. These defenses can be used to mitigate the consequences of a supposed violation or to justify the action taken by the accused. Some notable exceptions include employment-related transportation, religious ceremony participation, parental consent and supervision, and seeking legal advice. 

Employment-Related Transportation

In some cases, a person may be exempt from certain legal restrictions if their actions were taken in the course of their employment. For example, commercial truck drivers are often subject to specific rules and regulations that do not apply to the general public, such as hours of service limits and mandatory rest periods. However, there may be exceptions to these rules, such as when truck drivers are engaged in “personal conveyance,” which involves driving their commercial vehicle for personal use, but not engaging in any work-related activity.

Moreover, some industries – such as the taxi and ride-sharing (Uber, Lyft) industry – have specific legal requirements and rules regarding the transportation of passengers, driver licensing, and vehicle maintenance, among other things. People employed in these sectors generally have the obligation to comply with these rules but may utilize certain defenses if they can prove their infringement was a direct result of their employment duties.

Religious Ceremony Participation

In some circumstances, religious practices and ceremony participation may provide a legal defense to certain violations. For example, some indigenous communities are allowed to use peyote – a hallucinogenic substance – during religious rituals, which is otherwise an illegal substance under federal law. In these instances, individuals who participate in the ceremony and use the substance for religious purposes may be able to argue that their actions were protected under the First Amendment right to freedom of religion and, thus, avoid criminal liability.

However, this type of defense will depend on the specific circumstances and whether the alleged violation was a “sincerely held” religious practice rooted in historical or cultural traditions.

Parental Consent and Supervision

In some cases, parental consent and supervision can serve as a legal defense to certain actions. For example, if a minor is found to be in possession of alcohol, but they were under the direct supervision of their parent or legal guardian, and the consumption was taking place at a private residence, they may be exempt from legal repercussions under New Jersey’s exemptions.

Consequences and Penalties

If an underage driver is caught with unopened alcohol in their car, they may face legal consequences depending on the context and circumstances. Possible penalties can include fines, license suspensions, and even criminal charges in more severe cases.

For the Underage Driver

Individuals under 21 found in possession of unopened alcohol in a vehicle can be subject to the following penalties. 

  • A fine between $500 to $1,000
  • Enrollment and attendance to a six-month alcohol treatment program
  • Possible incarceration of up to 180 days

For persons over 18 but under the age of 21, their license and driving privileges may be suspended for up to six months following a conviction of underage possession of alcohol. If the person is under 18 years old, they may be required to enter a residential alcohol treatment facility.

Repeat offenders will likely face increased penalties, and the offense may also impact future job and educational opportunities.

Precautions to Take

It’s crucial for underage individuals to be aware of the laws and regulations surrounding alcohol possession in a vehicle, as well as the potential ramifications if they are caught breaking the law. Taking specific precautions can help avoid unwarranted penalties or criminal charges.

Storing Alcohol Properly

If an underage driver must transport unopened alcohol for a legitimate reason and with the consent and knowledge of a responsible adult, they should store the alcohol in the appropriate area, such as the trunk or a locked compartment. This helps to demonstrate responsible behavior and compliance with applicable laws if stopped by law enforcement.

Communicating with Law Enforcement

If stopped by police and asked about the presence of unopened alcohol, it’s essential to be honest, respectful, and cooperative. If the situation involves legitimate transportation of alcohol for an adult, explain the relevant circumstances clearly and calmly. If the alcohol was unknowingly in the car, provide as much information as possible about how it came to be there. Being upfront and respectful in these interactions can help mitigate potential penalties and avoid charges in some cases.

In conclusion, it’s crucial that individuals under the legal drinking age are aware of the potential consequences associated with possessing unopened alcohol in a vehicle. By taking appropriate precautions, understanding various scenarios that could arise, and complying with applicable laws, drivers can avoid harmful consequences and ensure responsible behavior when faced with such situations.

Effects on Driving Record and Future Opportunities

A driving violation can have long-lasting effects on your driving record, insurance rates, employment opportunities, and even educational prospects.

License Suspensions and Points

Driving violations may result in points being added to your driving record or even a license suspension. The point system varies by state, but receiving too many points within a certain time frame typically results in a license suspension. This can pose a serious problem, as you may be left without a means of transportation, impacting your ability to get to work, school, or other essential places.

License suspensions can also result in hefty reinstatement fees or required participation in driver reeducation courses. Moreover, if you have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), a driving violation may lead to a disqualification of your CDL, which would then affect your employment if you rely on your commercial driving skills.

It’s important to note that points on your driving record may not automatically disappear after a specific period. Depending on the violation, points can remain on your record for several years, impacting your driving privileges, and causing potential issues when applying for jobs or car insurance.

Insurance Premium Implications

Another significant consequence of driving violations is the effect they have on your insurance premiums. When determining your insurance rates, insurers look at factors like your age, level of experience, type of car you drive, and your driving history. Having violations on your driving record can lead to increased insurance rates or even loss of coverage altogether.

While minor infractions may not significantly impact your insurance rates, more severe violations (such as DUI or reckless driving) can drastically increase your premiums. Furthermore, insurance companies may view you as a high-risk driver due to your past driving violations, making it difficult for you to find affordable coverage.

If you manage to avoid additional violations and maintain a clean driving record for an extended period, your insurance rates may gradually decrease. However, serious violations can continue to affect your premiums for several years.

Impact on Employment and Education

Driving violations have the potential to affect your employment prospects, especially if your job involves driving or operating heavy machinery. Employers in these fields generally require applicants to provide a driving record, and having violations on yours can impact your chances of being hired.

Moreover, certain violations may also cause you to become ineligible for professional licenses or certifications, thereby hindering your career growth. Additionally, some companies may consider driving violations when evaluating candidates for non-driving positions that require a background check, deeming them too risky to employ.

Apart from employment, driving violations can also impact your educational opportunities. For example, certain scholarships or financial aid programs may require students to have a clean driving record to be eligible for funding.

Getting the help of an experienced attorney is crucial in order to build a robust case and challenge the prosecution’s case against you effectively. 

Working with an Experienced New Jersey Underage DUI Defense Attorney

Charges of underage possession of alcohol can cause serious legal repercussions on a person’s life. It is important to seek the help of a knowledgeable underage DUI attorney in New Jersey to establish a strong legal defense strategy on your behalf. At the Kugel Law Firm, our top-rated New Jersey DUI defense attorneys can investigate the facts of your case and fight aggressively to defend your rights and your best interests. We understand the severity of the potential legal and non-legal consequences a conviction can have on a minor’s life and leverage our combined experience to help achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

To schedule a free strategy session, contact the Kugel Law Firm today at (973) 854-0098.

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