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Underage Drinking Sees New Calls for Penalties

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Underage drinking ordinances too prone to abuse

Feb 1, 2011 Courier News Editorials

Reviewed by Attorney Elisabeth Pasqualini, Criminal Law Division Leader

Middlesex Borough officials are developing an ordinance that would allow police to fine underage drinkers on private property. Many New Jersey communities have taken a similar step, expanding what began primarily as a Shore-town initiative to combat underage drinking at summer house parties.

But despite the growth in the number of such ordinances, it remains an ill-conceived approach much too ripe for abuse by police and by disgruntled neighbors ratting out other neighbors. We recommend borough leaders drop the plan.

Fines run from $250 for a first offense to $350 for future offenses. Penalties also may include the suspension of a driver's license or a delay in receiving a driver's license for those under 17.

Supporters say the law is designed to give police more power to try to control underage drinking when they see it - and when parents aren't doing anything about it.

So, for instance, teens standing in the yard of a private home downing beers can currently do so in plain sight of police without fear - as long as they're not doing anything else that might earn a summons, such as a disorderly persons offense. Under the new law, police could take action.

Review by Attorney Pasqualini-

In Pennsylvania, the underaged can be charged under the PA Crimes Code and, if convicted, stand to receive at a minimum a 90 day loss of their driving privileges.  Different penalties apply for Underage Driving Under the Influence.  In most instances, for a first offense, they will be able to receive an occupational limited license (aka "bread and butter" license) for travel to and from work and school.  However, the damage to the parent's vehicle insurance rates will be enormous.  The statute speaks directly to the inability of an insurance company to increase rates, premiums or suspend coverage due to a conviction for this offense or suspension of license under a separate section.  However, for most college students who reside out-of-state, their own state may have different insurance company restrictions on the PA statute.  An increase is likely.

If your child has been charged with an offense of underage drinking, contact an experienced attorney at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC at www.shafferengle.com or toll free at 1-866-765-0706.  Know the penalties and consequences of this offense before you appear in court.  Do not attempt to resolve it on your own.

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