The United States of America is known for many things, and amongst those many things are our relatively strict drinking laws. Most other countries allow minors to consume alcohol as young as 16 with family and 18 on their own, whereas here in the states — as you know — it’s unanimously 21. That being said, different states do have their own regulations and exceptions to that major rule, so it isn’t as clear-cut as one might think. Whether you’re a concerned-but-wants-to-be-fun parent or a wants-to-HAVE-fun minor, knowing these laws can only make your life easier.
Illegal-ish but still illegal
Put. The keg. Down. Yes, it is true that Maryland has exceptions that allow for minors to consume alcohol, but they are narrow and specific. There is no exception that allows for you to throw a high school rager, sorry. Here’s what you need to know.
When it comes to consuming alcohol under the age of 21, these are the exceptions that would allow a minor to do so:
- At home, or in a private residence, with your parent/guardians.
- Religious rites/traditions, such as communion and Passover.
It’s also worth noting that your parent/guardian is in fact allowed to purchase alcohol for you as long as it’s consumed within the above parameters. Unfortunately, this means the closest thing to a rager a teen can legally get is drinking at home with their family. But hey, that’s bonding!
The only other exception refers not to drinking alcohol, but to being around and serving it. In other words, minors are allowed to work around alcohol at work as long as they’re not drinking it. Besides that, you can safely assume anything else is illegal.
Penalties to know for underage drinking
Because the laws involve minors, the penalties are less severe. It’s assumed that since minors are deemed too irresponsible to drink, they can’t be held fully responsible if they do anyways. This is very good news, especially if you’re a concerned parent and your child was caught drinking. In Maryland, underage drinking is considered a civil offense, not a criminal one, so while there can be fines and other consequences there isn’t a threat of jail time or a criminal record.
These crimes are also handled a bit differently, in that the court also looks into any possible neglect, abuse, or general irresponsibility from the parent/guardians that could’ve lead to the incident. Not only that, but the rules of evidence are less formal, so there’s more room for your attorney to work with.
The penalties generally depend on the age of the minor — whether they’re under 18 or between 18 and 21. One would think that the latter category has lesser fines since the minors are legal adults relatively close to the legal age, but unfortunately that is not exactly true. Minors under 18 would deal with juvenile court, and they could be subject to a wide array of punishments at the judge’s discretion, including anything from fines to counseling to community service. For persons 18-20, however, the fines incurred are a hefty $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent one.
It’s up to you whether or not these penalties are worth the risk. My advice is, if you’re the minor in question, maybe direct your energy towards convincing your parents to take you on a nice vacation to the Bahamas, where the drinking age is 18.
If you’re the parents, I’m sorry for giving your child that idea.
There’s a lot to keep track of, and sometimes stuff just happens. Whether you got confused by the law or simply just didn’t expect to get caught ordering a margarita with dinner, the law can sneak up on you. At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, our experienced underaged drinking attorneys can answer all your questions and provide any help you’d like, with offices in Annapolis and Ellicott City for your convenience. Give us a call today at 410-271-1892 or contact us. This stuff can be a lot to drink in (get it?).
And remember — Keep Calm and Call Drew!