Underage drinking in Virginia is illegal, and charges can result in a harmful criminal record which affects a young person’s future dramatically. Your age at the time you are arrested is crucial to your case; it defines whether you violated the law, and what kind of process will be used to try your case.
You Must Be 21 to Drink
In 1933, after the 21st Amendment was repealed, each state was able to set a legal drinking age. The legal age for drinking in Virginia was 18 for beer and 21 for wine and liquor. However, in the 1970s, advocacy groups pushed to increase the drinking age to 21 based on studies that showed that youth traffic accidents were higher when the drinking age was lower. In response, in 1984, the federal government enacted the Uniform Drinking Age Act, requiring that states raise the drinking age to 21 or lose funding for roads. In 1987, Virginia increased the drinking age for beer to 21.
You Are Tried in Juvenile Court if You Are 17 or Younger, and Tried as an Adult in Criminal Court if You Are 18 or Older
If you are charged with underage drinking in Virginia, your age at the time of the offense is critical in determining where and how your case will proceed, as well as the consequences that you face. In Virginia, if you commit an offense when you are under 18 years of age, you are considered a juvenile. This means that your case will be in Virginia’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts. This is a civil proceeding, not a criminal proceeding, which results in an adjudication of delinquency and not a criminal conviction. Adjudication of delinquencies are expunged automatically in about five years.
If you are 18 or older, you are tried in criminal court, and this can result in a criminal conviction that will be on our record for life.
Minor in Possession
Underage drinking in Virginia includes purchasing, possessing, or consuming alcohol and can result in a fine ranging from $500 to $2,500, 12 months in jail and a six-month to year-long driver’s license suspension. For a juvenile, instead of a suspension this can result in revocation of the driver’s license. However, there are several exceptions to this law allowing minors to possess alcohol in certain situations, including: when accompanied by a guardian and served alcohol as a guest in someone’s home, or when delivering alcohol for a parent or job. Conviction for someone 18 and older is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Alcohol on School Grounds
Drinking or possessing alcohol on public school grounds can result in a fine of $1,000 and six months in jail. This law applies to both underage and legal drinkers. Conviction for those 18 and older is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
Underage drinking in Virginia also includes use of fake identification. If you are under 21 and use, or attempt to use, a fictitious document to misrepresent your age in an attempt to consume or purchase alcohol, a conviction can result in a fine ranging from $500 to $2,500, 12 months in jail and a six-month to year-long driver’s license suspension. Conviction for someone 18 or older is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Underage drinking in Virginia of course also encompasses underage drinkers who drive. Over the last several years, the Virginia legislature has made the punishment for drinking under the influence increasingly harsh. Now, driving with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) over .02% (essentially zero tolerance) is a misdemeanor conviction, your license will be suspended for one year, and you will be fined at least $500 or 50 hours of community service. For a juvenile, your license could be revoked.
The Virginia law requires only that the prosecutor prove that the BAC of the underage drinker was .02 or above, and does not require that the prosecutor also show the driving was actually impaired. This makes these cases easier to prove, and as a result, harder to fight. A conviction for someone 18 or older is a class 1 misdemeanor.
It’s important to note that it’s also illegal to operate a boat or watercraft while under the influence.
Consequences of Conviction for Underage Drinking in Virginia for Juveniles
Charges for underage drinking in Virginia can result in an adjudication as a juvenile delinquent if you are under 18 years old, or, if you are over 18, a misdemeanor conviction which remains on your record for life.
The law treats those under 18 years old much more favorably. If you are adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent for underage drinking in Virginia, the court record will not be open to the public. It will still be accessible to treatment providers, probation officers, DMV and the DMV and select other entities. A police record will exist because fingerprints and photographs will be sent to the Central Criminal Record Exchange, and can be used by law enforcement investigators. This record will be considered if you commit another crime later and result in a harsher punishment for subsequent crimes. The good news is that although these records and criminal record are still accessible to limited group of people, they are not accessible to colleges and employers.
Since an adjudication of delinquency is not a criminal conviction, it does not have the same harsh impact on your future. However, employers with businesses that provide care to children, the elderly or disabled, can still conduct a national criminal background check, which could disqualify you from employment before your record is expunged. Also, a student adjudicated as a delinquent can be placed in an alternative education program. Your future in higher academics could be at risk, because in some cases, the college admission process asks about your past history including adjudications of delinquency. You will also need written court approval to get a driver’s license.
Consequences of Conviction for Underage Drinking in Virginia for Adults
Unfortunately, if you are convicted of violating any laws regulating underage drinking in Virginia after you are 18, you may end up with a permanent criminal record with a misdemeanor conviction. This still includes notification to the Central Criminal Records Exchange, and public access to your court records.
Even for misdemeanor for underage drinking in Virginia, a staggering number of areas of your life can be impacted by a misdemeanor conviction:
- You may be ineligible to receive take home medical from a behavioral health provider.
- You may be ineligible for certain professional licenses, or the loss of those licenses.
- You may be ineligible or loss of certain jobs or volunteer positions including working for certain counties and cities in Virginia or federal jobs like the postal service.
- You may have your handgun license suspended or revoked.
- You will be responsible for court costs from your case.
- You may be discharge from the military or unable to join the military.
- You may be ineligible for certain federal loans.
- Your immigration status may be affected and it may possibly lead to deportation.
- You cannot reside in or lease public housing, and may not be able to live with your parents or family if they live in public housing.
- Colleges and other high education providers may ask about your criminal history and deny you admission.
- Employers are allowed to ask, and free to consider, your criminal history in making hiring decisions and are able to obtain records from Virginia’s central criminal records exchange
Expungement for Underage Drinking in Virginia
Juvenile court records are automatically expunged after five years have passed and you are at least 19 years old, and at this point, all law enforcement will reply that there is no record of underage drinking for you if someone inquires.
Your only option for expungement if you are over 18 years old and charged with underage drinking in Virginia is if you are acquitted after trial, or the prosecutor or court dismiss the case, and you can show that you were innocent. Your attorney can file a petition with the court to help get this expungement.
You Need a Lawyer to Fight for You
Given the harsh consequences for underage drinking in Virginia, you need a lawyer to fight to keep your record clean. Call Fisher Law Firm, P.C. today at (540) 381-8750 to protect your future.