The Legal Consequences for Underage Drinking Explained

Did you know in some circumstances it is legal for minors to drink alcohol? Du Page County Criminal and DUI attorney Donald Ramsell explains the law in this area.

In Illinois, it is generally against the law for a person under the age of 21 to consume alcohol.  In fact, if a person under the age of 21  pleads guilty to, or is found guilty of, consuming alcohol while under the age of 21 that person will lose their driving privileges for 3 to 6 months. Even if they were not driving. Even if they get court supervision (a non-conviction sentence).

I frequently receive calls from parents who go to court with their children and simply plead guilty to the charge of underage drinking, or "unlawful consumption of alcohol by a minor." The parents think they are saving money by not hiring an attorney. Weeks later, after the papers reach the Secretary of State in Springfield, the child receives a notice that his or her driving privileges have been suspended. Now the cost of hiring a lawyer can triple, or in some cases it may be too late to do anything.

There might be defenses to underage drinking tickets that can avoid these consequences. For example, it is not illegal for a minor to consume alcohol while under adult supervision. The law reads that "the consumption of (alcohol) by a person under 21 years of age under the direct supervison and approval of the parents or parent or those standing in loco parentis of such person under 21 years of age in the privacy of a home, is not prohibited by this Act."

Two recent appellate opinions explain the parental-supervision exemption. In People v. Finkenbinder the minor consumed alcohol at a family gathering with mom's approval. The minor left the house where he ultimately encountered police. Because mom did not know how much the minor drank, what type of liquor was consumed, or even that the minor had left the house, the court held that the minor was never under "direct supervison" and was therefore guilty.

On the other hand, in a recent decision called People v. Haase, the minor consumed one wine cooler while under direct supervison, and then left the house after receiving a call to assist a friend with a broken-down car. The police were at the scene of the car and gave the minor a breath test, with a 0.03 result. The appeals court found that, even though there was still some alcohol in the minor's body metabolizing after direct supervision by a parent had ended, the parental-supervision exemption still applied.

Of course, it remains illegal for a person under 21 to operate any vehicle with an alcohol concentration above 0.00. Put another way, even if the consumption of alcohol was proper under the law, a monor can never drive a car with alcohol in their system of they will get a DUI. The consequences for that charge are not discussed in this article.

In summary, an underage minor who consumes alcohol could face a driving suspension of 3-6 months even though they were not driving a car at the time of the offense, and a lawyer should always be consulted. Additionally, because a minor may consume alcohol under the direct suerision of a parent in a home, there may be defenses that apply.






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