When young people are on the cusp of adulthood, they’re often attracted to behaviors that are part of the adult experience but not yet allowed to them. That can include drinking alcohol before they’re legally permitted. Many young people see drinking alcohol as a rite of passage — and that idea is reinforced in a lot of pop culture that treats underage drinking as fun and rebellious.
According to data from the Office of Adolescent Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a 2011 survey of Indiana high school students revealed that 33 percent of high school students said they’d had at least one drink of alcohol in the month preceding the survey. About 20 percent reported binge drinking at least five drinks within a couple of hours at some point within the preceding month. The survey showed that 18 percent of Indiana high school students reported having their first drink by age 13.
Underage drinking can affect a teen’s performance in school, sports, or other activities. Consuming alcohol can lead to poor decision-making that might, in turn, result in other offenses, such as disorderly conduct, vandalism, or assault.
There’s also a correlation between drinking and car accidents, with the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration reporting that teenage drunk driving accounts for about 25 percent of all motor vehicle accidents, and 17 percent of fatal alcohol-related crashes. If you are under the legal limit and are facing DUI charges, don’t hesitate to call an Indianapolis DUI attorney today for a free, initial consultation.
There are serious legal consequences in Indiana when someone under 21 is caught drinking, possessing alcohol, misrepresenting their age to obtain alcohol, or entering a bar or other “21 and over” establishment. A young adult under 21 could be charged with a criminal offense and face jail time, while a younger juvenile under 18 could face delinquency proceedings.
If you or a juvenile in your care has been arrested for an underage alcohol offense, certain steps need to be followed that an experienced Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer can help. There may be ways to fight the charge and get it dismissed or reduced so that a young person’s life doesn’t have to be tainted by the stain of a criminal conviction or finding of juvenile delinquency.
Types of Indiana Underage Drinking Charges
Indiana makes it illegal for anyone under age 21 to:
- Consume, possess, or transport alcohol, also known as minor in possession or Minor Consumption.
- Make a false statement to obtain alcohol
- Enter a bar or place that serves or sells alcohol, unless the minor is 18 or older or accompanied by a parent or guardian over 21, and the minor is there to eat food and not to drink alcohol. There’s also an exception for places like convention centers and sports arenas.
For minors ages 18 to 20, each of these offenses is a Class C misdemeanor in Indiana and can be prosecuted in an adult criminal court. The punishment for a conviction includes up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, and a driver’s license suspension for up to 1 year. A judge also might order you to complete an alcohol treatment program if you’re convicted.
College students caught in possession of alcohol, making a false statement to obtain alcohol, or entering a bar also may be in violation of campus rules that could result in consequences for their education.
Juveniles and Underage Drinking
When a minor under age 18 is suspected of an alcohol-related offense, the charge is handled in a different court than for someone over age 18. In general, offenses involving juveniles — defined in Indiana law as children and teens under age 18 — are handled in the state’s juvenile court system. There are exceptions for some crimes committed by minors who are 16 or older, which may be handled in an adult criminal court such as the Marion Superior Court in Indianapolis.
However, Indiana law gives juvenile courts exclusive jurisdiction over the case when anyone under age 18 is arrested for illegal consumption or possession of alcohol. When a case goes to juvenile court, the juvenile may be charged with committing a delinquent act rather than with the underlying offense, such as minor consumption.
Delinquency proceedings are similar in some ways to an adult criminal trial. Evidence and testimony are presented so that a judge can make a determination whether the juvenile committed the underlying offense. If so, the teen may be adjudicated a delinquent juvenile.
Possible Outcomes in Juvenile Underage Drinking Cases
Where the juvenile process often differs in an important way from the adult criminal system is in outcomes. The juvenile system is designed with rehabilitation in mind rather than punishment. Detention in a juvenile facility can be an outcome in a delinquency case, but typically a juvenile court first will explore other alternatives. Those may include:
- Community service
- Alcohol or substance abuse treatment
- Payment of restitution to any victims
- Placement in foster care or group home
The goal is to balance the best interests of the juvenile with public safety and to try to set the juvenile back on a stable path toward adulthood.
In addition to probation, alcohol treatment, or any other disposition set by the court, a juvenile facing a delinquency charge for underage drinking can expect to face a driver’s license suspension. For a minor under 18, Indiana law mandates a driver’s license suspension for at least 60 days.
How an Indianapolis Underage Drinking Lawyer Can Help
Whether it’s a teenager or a young adult facing a charge of underage drinking, the consequences of a conviction can have a major impact on a young person’s life. A conviction means having a criminal record in the case of someone 18 to 21, or a record as a juvenile delinquent for someone younger than 18. A conviction could affect a young person’s employment prospects, or result in getting suspended or expelled from college.
You may be able to avoid some of those impacts on your life and your future with the help of a skilled Indianapolis underage drinking lawyer. A good lawyer with experience handling underage drinking and juvenile defense can explain your options for fighting the underage drinking charge and getting it dismissed or reduced.
If you’re the parent or guardian of a juvenile charged with delinquency because of an underage alcohol offense, a compassionate attorney can be a strong voice for your child in juvenile court. A juvenile defense attorney can fight for your teen’s best interests and work to get the delinquency petition dismissed, or to secure an outcome that protects your juvenile’s future. Call Sean Hessler with Hessler Law today for an initial consultation at (317) 886-8800.