The legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old. There are certain circumstances in some states where parents, guardians, or spouses can offer or supply alcohol to an individual under the age of 21. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 2016, the following states had some form of exception that allows underage individuals to procure or use alcohol:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington DC
People interested in knowing how their state interprets these situations can go to their state website and review the conditions, if any, that allow individuals under the age of 21 to be provided with alcohol within their state. Aside from these very special considerations that apply to a few specific states, it is a crime to supply an underage person with alcohol even when there is no purchase involved. The conditions are well specified.
- All states have provisions that prohibit supplying alcohol to underage individuals. States punish these activities as criminal offenses, and anyone who knowingly supplies underage individuals with alcohol is committing a crime (except in the very few exceptions mentioned above and below).
- There is a wide range of activities that are defined as supplying alcohol to a person under the age of 21. In most states, even allowing an underage person to be in a home where alcohol is available and not blocking access to the alcohol is defined as supplying alcohol to minors. This means that adults do not actually have to be on the premises and do not have to physically give the alcohol to an underage person in order to be charged.
- The laws typically are not enforced in situations where the person did not know that alcohol was available to minors. For example, a property owner who grants someone permission to throw a party on their property and knows that underage individuals will attend the party would most likely not be charged with providing alcohol to minors if alcohol was served to minors; however, this depends on the specific case.
- The laws apply to everyone whether they are licensed to sell alcohol or not.
- The exceptions to the laws mentioned above are most often applied to situations where alcohol is provided within a home environment or for medicinal purposes. In these states, the laws may allow an underage person to purchase alcohol, but the use of alcohol and the acquisition of alcoholic beverages must be performed in the presence of an adult, guardian, or spouse who is over the age of 21 and gives that individual permission to procure and/or use alcohol.
- The Laws About Overserving Patrons
- What Is the Fine for a Minor in Possession?
- Universities with the Most Alcohol Consumption
Penalties for Supplying Alcohol to Minors
Depending on the situation, one can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony for supplying alcohol to minors. Most often, supplying alcohol to a minor is considered a misdemeanor offense, but in some jurisdictions, it may be considered a felony depending on the circumstances. Felonies for supplying minors with alcohol are typically charged when there is some type of accident or injury involved with the use of alcohol or the person supplying the alcohol has been convicted of repeated offenses. Typical penalties are outlined below.
- Jail sentences for misdemeanors can range from a few days to one year. Felony convictions that result in prison sentences will include sentences of at least a year, though they may be significantly longer, depending on the circumstances.
- Fines for misdemeanors are most often between $500 and $1,000, but depending on the circumstances, they can be significantly higher (up to $5,000). Fines associated with felony offenses are typically higher than those associated with misdemeanors; they can be significant and run into the tens of thousands of dollars or even more. Individuals in court will have to pay court costs that can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the circumstances. Of course, attorney fees can also become quite expensive.
- Individuals who are convicted of supplying alcohol to minors will most likely be put on probation and may have to perform community service or other services.
- Businesses that have liquor licenses will most likely face administrative actions that can result in additional fines, license suspension, or license revocation.
- Business owners and employees of businesses convicted of supplying alcohol to minors can be subject to both administrative actions as well as personal actions.