What happens if you get caught underage drinking in Ohio?
- Criminal Defense
Ohio, like every other state, sets the legal drinking age at 21. The state also makes it a criminal offense for anyone younger than 21 to:
- Order alcohol,
- Pay for alcohol,
- Share the cost of alcohol,
- Attempt to purchase alcohol,
- Possess alcohol,
- Consume alcohol, or
- Go out in public after becoming intoxicated by alcohol.
Very limited exemptions to the ban on underage drinking exist. For instance, a child or teen can consume small amounts of alcohol as part of a religious ceremony. Beyond that, a parent can provide beer or wine to their own child in their own home, and a spouse who is older than 21 can share a drink with a spouse who is younger than the legal drinking age.
But what happens when none of the exemptions apply and you get caught with alcohol while underage in Ohio?
Judges who hear cases involving underage drinking can be encouraged to order defendants into a diversion program if one is available. Completing the diversion program allows the defendant to avoid a criminal conviction, but this option is not available to everyone. Additionally, the defendant or the defendant’s family must pay several hundred dollars to enroll in the program and settle court fees.
Repeat offenders and individuals who, for whatever reason, do not complete a court-order alcohol diversion program will be prosecuted for underage drinking as a misdemeanor of the first degree. The maximum penalties for this category of offense are a $1,000 fine and a jail sentence of 180 days.
An actual sentence for an underage drinking charge will most likely be less harsh, but the conviction itself will remain on the defendant’s public record. Having a conviction may lead a potential employer to deny a job offer or a college to reject an application.
Effective defenses against a charge of underage drinking exist. If none of the exemptions from the drinking age statute listed above apply, a criminal defense attorney will question the evidence presented by the arresting police officer and prosecutor.
Did the officer observe the defendant purchasing alcohol? Were sobriety tests conducted on a defendant who “looked drunk.” Can witnesses clearly identify the defendant as the individual who paid for alcohol? These are just some of the questions that, when left unanswered beyond a reasonable doubt, could lead a judge to dismiss an underage drinking charge.
Colin Maher, a Columbus underage drinking lawyer from The Maher Law Firm defends people in all types of alcohol and drug cases. He advises and represents clients throughout Franklin County and offers a free phone consultation to each potential client. To speak with Colin directly, call (614) 205-2208 or contact him online.