A person under the age of 21 years old who possesses, consumes, buys or tries to buy alcohol (even by asking somebody else to buy it), or who has any measurable amount of alcohol in his or her blood, breath or urine is committing a crime under Utah law (a couple of exceptions are when the person is consuming alcohol for very specific religious or medical reasons).
Utah law imposes very serious criminal sanctions for underage drinking offenses such as:
- Minor in possession of alcohol (also called “unlawful purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol by a minor”)
- Minor in consumption of alcohol
- Underage purchase of alcohol
- False identification for obtaining alcohol
- Furnishing alcohol to minors
- Child endangerment law violations
On top of the legal ramifications, an underage drinker may find himself or herself subject to additional consequences imposed by his or her high school, college, university, athletic organization, club, and so on. These penalties can include:
- academic probation,
- exclusion from school-related functions or events,
- expulsion from academic and sports teams,
- and even expulsion from the institution
And sometimes equally harsh are the collateral driver license consequences, even when the alcohol offense does not involve a vehicle. For example, a minor (someone under the age of 21) who is convicted of possessing or consuming alcohol will, in addition to criminal penalties, have their driver license suspended for one year. And Utah does not have an option for a restricted license or work permit. Fortunately Utah law does allow the judge to issue an order reinstating the minor’s driver license early if it is their first offense for possessing or consuming alcohol and if they complete the state certified 16-Hour Prime for Life DUI Education course. However, if it is the minor’s second offense for possessing or consuming alcohol, the suspension period increases to two years!—again, with no option for a restricted license or work permit.
To illustrate how stark this difference is, consider this: A 21 year old can drive a car, cause an accident, get a DUI, and blow a breath alcohol level of .25 and only have their license suspended for 120 days—while a 20 year old (just one year younger) who has two beers sitting at a friend’s house nowhere near a vehicle can have his or her driver license suspended for 1 to 2 years!
For a lot of parents, a child’s underage drinking charge is their first introduction to the legal system, and it can be quite daunting. We understand how overwhelming your position can be, and so we promise to help you understand the legal situation your family finds itself in. We will work hard to represent your son or daughter and get him or her the best outcome we can in Utah’s court system.
Don’t misunderstand us. We at Schatz, Anderson & Associates certainly don’t advocate minors drinking alcohol, but we feel that the punishments are too harsh for those who do. Minors are just learning, exploring, and growing up. It seems like they should be given the most opportunity or leeway for making mistakes. But that is obviously not the case in Utah. With no work permit or special driving restrictions and by imposing these harsh driver license suspensions on minors, the laws are doing more harm than good by creating a whole group of college-age citizens who are either compelled to break the law by driving without a license in order to get to work or to attend college classes, or they drop out of school and don’t work at a time when they should be pursuing higher education and working to become independent young adults. At some point, the legislature has to realize that the punishment must fit the crime. It’s time for the Utah Legislature to re-evaluate these laws to eliminate senseless driver license suspensions for alcohol offenses committed by minors who are not driving vehicles.