FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2011-05-10
As the Centers for Disease Control describe it, “Alcohol use by persons under age 21 years is a major public health problem.” While illegal for those under 21, the statistics indicate substantial use by many minors.
- 42% drank some amount of alcohol.
- 24% binge drank.
- 10% drove after drinking alcohol.
- 28% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
Virginia Laws Related to Underage Drinking
The Commonwealth of Virginia has very strict laws and severe punishment for underage possession and consumption of any alcohol.
- It is illegal for anyone under 21 to possess, purchase, or consume any alcoholic beverage.
- Virginia's Zero Tolerance (Va. Code 18.2-266.1) law makes driving under the influence of any amount of alcohol a serious criminal offense for drivers under age 21. . Under Virginia law, a prosecutor only needs to prove that the underage defendant consumed enough alcohol to reach a 0.02 BAC, which in only 1/4 of the BAC for Virginia's "legal limit" of 0.08. In other words, the underage defendant may not feel or look intoxicated, but can still be convicted upon proof of this low BAC of 0.02.
- No one may use an altered or fake ID such as driver's license, birth certificate or student identification card to establish a false identity or false age to purchase an alcoholic beverage.
- Violators of the Underage Possession law (Va. Code 4.1-305) are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and, upon conviction, face (1) a mandatory minimum fine of $500.00 up to a maximum fine of $2,500 and/or 50 hours of community service, (2) and/or a year in jail, and (3) and can lose their driver's license for 6 months up to a year.
Legal Representation for Underage Consumption Charges
While there is a lot of underage drinking that goes on, if you or one of your children has been charged with underage possession or consumption, you need to have experienced legal counsel.
The punishments for these charges can be problematic for any minor. Conviction on these charges has immediate and far-reaching consequences. With the fines and loss of driving privileges, the ability to afford school or maintain a job, can be threatened.
A conviction could affect your ability to obtain financial aid or get in to the school you want. Moreover, under Va. law convictions cannot be expunged (removed) from your record if convicted as an 18-year or older defendant.
"Even if the defendant completes a court's first-offender program to have the charge dismissed, there will remain a record of the arrest that cannot be later expunged," cautioned Matthew Kensky of MacDowell & Associates of Fairfax, VA.
"Virginia's expungement laws are very limited- one must win the case the right way in order to maintain eligibility for a later expungement. It is always advisable to talk with a defense lawyer before going to court and committing to course of action."
A Momentary Lapse of Judgment
Young people make mistakes. They lack the experience of years and can frequently be carried along by peer pressure and be caught up in the moment. Do not allow a lapse of good sense to become a scarlet letter that haunts you in the future.
Often, due to the prevalence of binge drinking at parties, the police may round up every one, and let the prosecutors “sort it out” later. Because it is illegal for a minor to “possess” alcohol, just being present at such an event could make one subject to arrest.
An attorney experienced with handling underage consumption, as well as driving while under the influence by underage defendant cases can advise you of the possible legal consequences of your charge and how to ensure the negative consequences are minimized.
Speaking with an attorney as soon as you have been charged is important. The attorney can work to ensure your rights are protected and you do not say anything that could inadvertently hurt your defense.