January 9, 2003
LAWS RESTRICTING ALCOHOL BY MINORS IN PRIVATE PLACES
By: Kevin McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked for a description of laws in Connecticut and other states restricting possession of alcohol by minors (those under 21) in private places.
Connecticut does not generally prohibit minors from possessing alcoholic beverages in private places. Legislation to do so was considered in 1999 (SB 181), but it died on the Senate floor. Connecticut does subject a minor to a driver's license revocation of up to 60 days if a police officer finds alcoholic beverages in the vehicle the minor is driving. In contrast, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Texas (among other states) have broader prohibitions. Most of these states prohibit minors from possessing alcoholic beverages, subject to certain exceptions such as when the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian or is acting in the course of his employment.
A 1984 federal law effectively required states to prohibit minors from possessing alcoholic beverages in public, with several exceptions. States that did not pass such legislation faced the loss of substantial highway funding. Connecticut, like all other states, has adopted conforming legislation (CGS § 30-89).
A minor is subject to a license revocation for up to 60 days if a police officer finds alcoholic beverages in a vehicle he is driving. The penalty applies if the motor vehicles commissioner finds that the minor knew or had reason to know that the beverages were in the vehicle. However, the penalty does not apply if (1) the minor's parent or legal guardian is in the vehicle or (2) the minor is over age 18 and engaged in the employment of liquor permittee or is a permittee himself (CGS § 14-111a).
Georgia bars the knowing possession of alcoholic beverages by minors, except for medical purposes, as part of a religious ceremony, or when the parent or guardian of the minor gives him the beverage in his home. In addition, a minor can: (1) dispense, serve, sell, or handle alcoholic beverages as a part of employment in any licensed establishment; (2) be employed in any establishment in which alcoholic beverages are distilled or manufactured; and (3) take orders for and possession of alcoholic beverages as a part of employment in a licensed establishment. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $300, imprisonment for up to six months, or both for a first offense, and a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both for a subsequent offense (Ga. Code Ann. 3-3-23 et seq.).
Massachusetts prohibits minors from knowingly possessing alcoholic beverages or carrying them on their persons. The prohibition does not apply if the minor is (1) accompanied by his parent or guardian or (2) between 18 and 21 years old and acting in the course of his employment. A first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $50 and a subsequent offense is punishable by a fine of up to $150. In addition, the minor's driver's license must be suspended for 90 days (Mass. Gen. Laws 138 § 34C).
Nebraska generally prohibits minors from possessing or having physical control over alcoholic beverages in any vehicle or in any place, other than in their homes or in places of worship where the beverage is part of a religious service. Minors who are 16 or older may (1) carry alcohol from licensed establishments when accompanied by an adult, (2) handle liquor and liquor containers in the course of their employment; and (3) remove and dispose of liquor containers for the convenience of the employer and customers in the course of their employment. Minors who are 19 or older may also serve or sell liquor in the course of their employment. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $500, imprisonment of up to months, or both. In addition, the arresting officer must make a reasonable attempt to notify the minor's parent or guardian. Counties and municipalities may adopt ordinances regulating the knowing possession of alcoholic beverages (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 53-180.02).
New Jersey's law is somewhat broader than Connecticut's in that it bars minors from possessing alcoholic beverages in vehicles, whether or not the minor is driving or his parent or guardian is in the vehicles. The penalty is a fine of up to $500 and a driver's license suspension for six months. If the minor is not yet licensed, the law requires that licensing be delayed for six months. If the minor is under 17, this delay starts from the date he turns 17. The court can also require the offender to attend an alcohol education or treatment program. Like Connecticut, New Jersey permits the minor to possess alcohol in the performance of his employment. It also permits possession if the minor is preparing food while in a secondary or post-secondary culinary arts or hotel management program (N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:33-15).
The Liquor Control Act (N.M. Rev. Stat. § 60-7B-1) prohibits minors from possessing or permitting himself to be served with alcoholic beverages. Violation is subject to a fine of and imprisonment for up to. However, the court may suspend the minor's sentence if the minor:
1. accepts the suspension of his driver's license for a period set by the court of up to three months, and
2. performs up to 50 hours of community service designated by the court.
If the minor drives while under suspension, the court can reimpose the fine and imprisonment, or order him to perform the community service.
The state prohibits minors from having personal possession of alcoholic beverages. The prohibition does not apply to (1) possession in a private residence when the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian or (2) possession of sacramental wine as part of religious service. A minor in possession of alcohol is subject to a fine of up to $300. The court can order him to undergo alcohol assessment and treatment; for a second or subsequent offense it must do so. In addition, his driving privilege can be suspended for up to one year. If the minor is not already licensed, licensure must be delayed by up to one year (Ore. Rev. Stat. § 471.430).
Rhode Island's law has two provisions regarding the possession of alcohol by minors. The first is similar to Connecticut's law, providing for a 30-day license suspension for knowingly driving a vehicle that has alcoholic beverage containers in any part of the vehicle. The provision applies whether the containers are opened or unopened. But it does not apply if the minor (1) is accompanied by a parent or guardian or (2) is at least 16 years old and transporting unopened containers in the course of his employment (R.I. Gen. Laws § 3-8-9).
The more general provision bars any minor from having alcoholic beverage in his possession. The maximum penalty is a fine of up $500. The minimum fine is $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second, and $300 for a subsequent offense (R.I. Gen. Laws § 3-8-10).
Texas bars minors from possessing alcoholic beverages unless the minor is:
1. acting in the scope of his employment as an employee of a liquor permittee or licensee;
2. in view of his parent, guardian, or an adult to whom he has been committed by the court; or
3. acting under the immediate supervision of a police officer enforcing the liquor laws.
Violators are generally subject to a fine of up to $500. However, if the minor is 18 to 21 years old, the penalty for a third or subsequent offense is a fine of $250 to $2,000, imprisonment for up to 180 days, or both. In addition, the court must sentence the minor (regardless of age) to (1) eight to 40 hours of community service and (2) a driver's license suspension of 30 to 180 days. In both cases the penalty depends on the number of prior convictions the minor has had for alcohol offenses. If the minor is not yet licensed, the Department of Public Safety must delay his licensure for the relevant period (Tex. Alco. Bev. Code § 106.50).