New Jersey Minor in Possession of Alcohol Laws and Penalties

By , Contributing Author

A minor in New Jersey may not purchase, knowingly possess, or knowingly consume alcohol with few exceptions (see below). It is also illegal for minors to enter establishments licensed to sell alcohol for the purpose of purchasing (or attempting to purchase) alcohol, consuming alcohol on the premises, or to have an adult attempt to purchase alcohol for the minor on the premises. A minor or someone else may not misrepresent that minor's age in order to induce the sale, service, or delivery of alcohol to the minor in such an establishment. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-81.) Adults are also prohibited from providing a place for minors to consume alcohol, with one exception (see below). (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-17(b).)

Exceptions to the Rule

New Jersey recognizes three exceptions to the general rule prohibiting minors from possessing or consuming alcohol.

  • Adult family members. Minors may possess and consume alcohol with the permission, in the presence, and on the property of an immediate adult family member. This exception also allows adults to provide a place for minor family members—but not nonfamily members, such as the minor's friends— to possess and consume alcohol. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-17(b).)
  • Religious participation. A minor may possess and consume alcohol in connection with a religious observance, right, or ceremony. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-17(b).)
  • Employment or education. Minors may possess—but not consume—alcohol during the course of employment in an establishment licensed to sell alcohol, and as students in a licensed culinary arts or hotel management program. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 40:48-1.2.)


New Jersey imposes fines and other consequences for violations of the above rules. These penalties differ depending on the violation.

Underage possession or consumption of alcohol. The presiding judge will fine violators $250 for a first offense of this type, and $350 for subsequent offenses. The minor's driver's license will also be suspended for six months, and the violation reported to the Division of Motor Vehicles. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-81.)

Entering establishments that serve alcohol; drinking in such establishments; misrepresenting age to obtain alcohol. A violation of these laws is a civil disorderly person offense, which subjects the violator to fines and other consequences, but is not a criminal conviction. The violator will be fined at least $500. The court will also confiscate the violator's driver's license, suspend the license for six months, and forward the license and a report of the violation to the Division of Motor Vehicles, stating the first and last days of the suspension. The suspension covers the right to operate any motor vehicle, which includes motorcycles and motorized bicycles. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-81.)

Non-New Jersey residents. The same fine and suspension periods apply to non-New Jersey residents; however, the court will not collect the license from the violator. Instead, the court will submit its report to the New Jersey motor vehicle division, and notify the appropriate officials in the state where the violator holds a driver's license of the suspension time period. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-81.)

Additional penalties. In addition to the penalties listed above, the judge may impose further penalties in the following circumstances.

  • Minors younger than 17. If the violator is younger than 17 at the time of license suspension, the suspension will begin on the day that the sentence is imposed, and will last for six months after the minor turns 17. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-81.)
  • Operating a motor vehicle during period of suspension. At the time when the court suspends a violator's driver's license, the court will inform the violator of the additional penalties that will apply if the violator illegally operates a vehicle during the suspension period. The violator will have to sign a written receipt of this notice. However, if the court fails give such notice, subsequent penalties will still apply. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-81.)
  • Education and treatment programs. In addition to the fine and license suspension described above, the judge may also require minors or adult violators to participate in alcohol education or treatment programs, which can't exceed the time period of the applicable suspension or imprisonment. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-81.)

Selling Alcohol to a Minor

It is illegal in New Jersey to serve or sell alcohol to a minor. This includes selling to someone that an ordinary person would suspect is a minor, even if the buyer provides proof of age, such as a driver's license or identification card. A violation of this law is a civil misdemeanor disorderly person violation, not a criminal offense. However, the seller has a defense against having violated this law if:

  • the buyer provided state or federal photographic ID falsely showing that the buyer was of legal age to make the purchase
  • the seller relies on the proof of age and had no reason to believe that the ID is false, and
  • when looking at the buyer, an ordinary person would believe that the buyer was of legal age to purchase alcohol. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 33:1-77.)

A violation of this rule carries either or both of the following penalties:

  • a fine of up to $1000 as decided by the presiding judge, and
  • up to 6 months' imprisonment. (New Jersey Stat. Ann. Section 2C:33-17a.)

Getting Legal Help

Because local procedures, courts, district attorneys office and attitudes towards the New Jersey minor in possession laws vary by community, it is a good idea to consult with a lawyer who is familiar with how these cases are handled in your area. This will give you a better chance of achieving the most favorable outcome under the unique circumstances of your case.

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