Underage drinking may be commonplace in Virginia but it is illegal. Virginia law treats it as a criminal offense with serious consequences. The same is true for charges of furnishing alcohol to a minor.

21 and Under

In 1933, after the 21st Amendment was repealed, each state was able to set a legal drinking age.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 vehicular 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.

Currently, it is illegal for any person under 21 years of age to consume, purchase, or possess alcoholic beverages. In Virginia, penalties for underage possession of alcohol are severe, so a charge should not be taken lightly. Being charged with underage drinking can result in a fine ranging from $500 to $2,500, 12 months jail time and a six-month to year-long driver’s license suspension. For a juvenile, the penalty can be as severe as a revocation of the driver’s license.

Underage Drinking in Virginia

Virginia’s laws on underage drinking are complicated. However, they generally boil down to a few basic points.

In Virginia, it is a crime for any minor to possess, consume, or purchase alcohol under any circumstances save for the following exemptions:

  • Consumption of alcohol or being served alcohol as a guest in a private residence or private property that does not sell alcohol and with the consent of a parent or legal guardian.
  • Possession of alcoholic beverages is due to an order of a parent or as part of the job.
  • Possession of alcohol because of one’s work as a bartender, unless at an establishment that sells only beer.

Charges for underage drinking in Virginia depend on the age of the offender. If you are under 18 years old, can result in adjudication as a juvenile delinquent. But if you are above 18, you may be meted a Class 1 misdemeanor conviction which remains on your criminal record for life.

Furnishing Alcohol to A Minor

“Furnishing alcohol to a minor” is the act of giving or selling alcohol to someone who is not yet 21 years of age. This is a crime in Virginia. Anyone that knowingly sells alcohol to a minor face a Class 1 misdemeanor that entails a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 12 months jail time.  The establishment of selling alcohol to minors also face penalties such as a fine of up to $2,000 for the first offense and may also face alcohol license revocation.

The penalties for selling alcohol to a minor can change depending on whether or not you were aware that the person is a minor. However, if an employee of an establishment that sells or serves alcohol fails to check the ID of the minor buying alcohol, they may be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor, an offense punishable with a fine of up to $500.

Fake ID and Underage Drinking

While employees who inadvertently sold alcohol to minors bearing fake IDs are protected by law, those under age 21 who buy alcohol using fake IDs to misrepresent their age may be convicted. A conviction can result in a fine ranging from $500 to $2,500, up to six months jail time, and a six-month to year-long driver’s license suspension. If the offender is above 18 years of age, the conviction is a Class 1 misdemeanor. It is also illegal to loan your license to someone else to use or to make, sell or distribute false IDs.

Driving Under the Influence

Over the last several years, the Virginia legislature has a zero tolerance policy for drunk driving and has passed harsher punishment for driving under the influence.  In fact, in Virginia, people under the age of 21 can be charged with DUI if they have  BAC levels (Blood alcohol concentration) of as low as 0.02% while driving a motor vehicle. It is a Class 1 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. These will be added to the penalties of other criminal charges involved in an arrest, such as reckless driving.

Bear in mind that refusal to take a breathalyzer test after you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence in Virginia is an infraction of its own, and can result in a longer license suspension.

Take note that it’s also illegal to operate a boat or watercraft while under the influence.

Penalties for Underage Drinking in Virginia

Underage drinking and furnishing alcohol to a minor are class 1 misdemeanors in Virginia. Both face similar maximum penalties for each charge:

  • Fines: Between $500 and $2,500, or up to 50 hours of community service.
  • Jail sentence:  Up to 12 months
  • Driver’s license suspension: Between 6 and 12 months.
  • Other interventions: Mandatory alcohol abuse counseling.

Expungement of Underage Drinking Charge

Juvenile court records are automatically expunged after five years have passed and you are at least 19 years old.

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 defense lawyer can file a petition with the court to help get this expungement.

Seek legal counsel as soon as you are arrested

If you are charged with underage drinking or furnishing alcohol to a minor, it is critical to work with a knowledgeable and experienced Virginia DUI lawyer who can help you understand the nature of your situation, and enter the right plea for you. Call Fisher Law Firm, P.C. Today to protect your future.