Criminal Law

Under 21 Drinking Is a Crime

The laws regarding juvenile drinking vary considerably from state to state. Depending on where you or your child lives and the circumstances involved, the juvenile offense of underage drinking might result in no punishment at all or a misdemeanor charge. The legal drinking age is 21 in all states.

Juvenile Drinking Is Not Always Serious

Some states consider juvenile drinking a "status offense" - an activity that is legal for an adult but illegal for a minor. In states where minors become adults at age 18, this status offense creates confusion. When legal adults under the age of 21 consume alcohol, the law can charge them as adults. In states that consider juvenile drinking a status offense, an arresting officer might release offenders younger than 18 into their parents' custody. Alternatively, they might charge them with a minor offense that generally does not involve juvenile detention. Many of these states allow the arresting officer to decide how to deal with the situation.

Laws Are Based on Location and Circumstances

Many states base the offense of juvenile drinking on where the child is drinking and with whom. Virtually every state draws the line at a minor going nto a bar or drinking establishment without a parent and consuming alcohol. But a few states allow this if the child is with a parent or guardian. More than half of all states allow a minor to drink at home or on private property with a parent's consent. Six states allow a minor to drink at home even without a parent's consent.

Penalties Can Be Harsh

In stricter states, the penalties for drinking without a parent's consent and in public can be significant. Younger teenagers may face restrictions on their driver's licenses. There may be fines or even jail time if the underage drinker is over 18.

Adults Can Be Charged

In some states, adults who serve liquor to juveniles or knowingly allow juveniles to consume alcohol in their homes can be charged with a criminal offense. Although parents can give consent for their own children to drink in some areas, they can't give consent to another parent's child. If juveniles are hurt or killed after drinking in a private residence, the adults responsible for the residence might face charges. Some states are especially strict. In these states, parents will be charged even if they're not at home and therefore unaware that the juveniles are drinking.

A Criminal Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding underage drinking is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.

Have a juvenile law question?
Get answers from local attorneys.
It's free and easy.
Ask a Lawyer

Get Professional Help

Find a Juvenile Law lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys

Talk to an attorney

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you