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Asking For Trouble − Underage Drinking at the Graduation Party

Sam, 18 years old, was stopped for speeding on his way home from the store with a truckload of beer. When the officer stopped him and told Sam he couldn’t be in possession of alcohol, Sam explained that it wasn’t his beer – he was merely picking up some 12-packs and a keg which his mother had ordered. Officer Jones called Sam’s mother to confirm this story, and she explained that indeed Sam was just picking up the beer for her, and that she had ordered the beer by telephone, using her credit card. Officer Jones confirmed with the store clerk that the order had been placed by an adult who paid for the beer with her credit card. Was Sam now free to go?

No. Sam still cannot be in possession of alcohol because he is not 21 and he wasn’t in the company of an adult. The beer was impounded because further investigation revealed that it was ordered by Sam’s mother for a graduation party to be held that night at her home for Sam and all his friends. Sam’s mother demanded that the police release the beer to her, stating that the graduation party would be a private party in her home, in her presence and under her supervision. Officer Jones explained that as long as the other graduates at the party were also under age 21, then she could not serve alcohol to them because they were minors. Sam’s mother agreed not to serve the beer but would allow the graduates to bring their own alcohol to the party. Officer Jones advised her that since she was the property owner, it would also be illegal for her to allow them to consume alcohol on her premises. He further explained that she was opening herself up to civil liability for any harm that came to her guests because they were drinking.

Legal consequences and options

Sam could end up with a criminal record for being in possession of alcohol while underage, but the courts recognize that people make legal missteps and it isn’t always necessary that the consequences of such mistakes mar their records forever. For that reason, many Ohio counties have pretrial diversion programs for people like Sam who have no prior convictions and who the prosecutor thinks are unlikely to reoffend. If this pretrial diversion program is successfully completed, the participant can have his or her arrest record expunged.

Keep in mind that the legal drinking age in Ohio is 21. If you buy, possess or drink alcohol before age 21, or if you provide alcohol to someone who is not at least 21 years of age, you’re committing a crime. The consequences can include:

  • a 6 month jail sentence
  • a $1000 fine
  • being placed on  probation
  • being ordered to do community service
  • paying court costs

Not all party-givers serve alcohol at their get-togethers, but it is not uncommon for friends of friends to crash a party with their own booze and when the police show up because of a noise complaint, you may be the one getting the ticket since a minor-in-possession is on your property. If this happens to you, or if you receive a citation for underage drinking, you want to talk to a misdemeanor criminal attorney at Yavitch & Palmer Co., LPA about what defenses you have to these criminal charges.

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