Connecticut law on possession of alcohol and minors
Kids having parties when their parents are away or kids hanging around at local landmarks or parking lots and having a few beers are never going to stop. Kids are going to be kids. Most people reading this article probably did the same thing. In Wilton, CT where I grew up the spots were the tennis courts and the reservoir. The problem now is that the punishments and the penalties and enforcement has changed dramatically over the years since I was doing it. The police used to use discretion but that is no longer the case, or at least it is much less likely. The police in Greenwich, Stamford, Wilton and Westport are now arresting minors who are in possession of alcohol, and even arresting their parents who are providing the alcohol or allowing the possession of alcohol by minors. The kid who brings the alcohol and gives it to his friends is committing an additional crime of distributing or delivering the alcohol to minors. The links in this paragraph will take you to the specifics of those charges mentioned. The rest of this article will talk about some specific things you need to know about them.
Adult court or Juvenile court? If my kid is arrested for possessing alcohol or giving it to someone, what court do they go to?
Anyone arrested for these charges in Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Wilton, Ridgefield, Westport and any other Fairfield County town that is 17 years old or younger will go to the superior court for juvenile matters. However, a “minor” for purposes of alcohol related statutes is anyone under 21. Anyone who is 18 years old or older will go to the adult Superior Court. The courthouse for Fairfield County juveniles will either be in Stamford or Bridgeport depending on where the minor lives. If the minor is 17 years old or younger than the arrest will not be reported publicly or be in the paper using the person’s name. The incident itself might be reported but they will not use anyone’s name that is 17 years old or younger. Any top Stamford, Danbury or Bridgeport attorney knows that the juvenile process is less public than adult court, but even an arrest as a juvenile can result in your child being arrested, handcuffed, placed into a patrol car, transported to the police department, and then put through the processing of being interrogated, photographed and fingerprinted. A juvenile arrest and/or disposition will not show up on a background check.
However, if you are 18 years old or older then the arrest will be reported by the police in their daily news release and likely picked up by the local newspapers and online media outlets. The top Stamford, Danbury and Bridgeport defense attorneys will tell you it is a mistake to take these charges lightly and that any charge that is prosecuted as an adult can have serious long-term consequences. These charges must be fought and fought aggressively. Just because your child has been arrested does not mean the evidence supports a conviction. Many attorneys talk about using a diversionary program for the charges as soon as you speak with them without ever talking to you about fighting the charges if the proof does not support the charge, or trying to get an alternate disposition that does not cause the youth to “burn” a program they may need in later years. The best Stamford, Danbury and Bridgeport attorneys know that using a program of some sort should be the last resort. Once the case is over your attorney should strongly advocate to the media outlets to remove any reference to the arrest and get it off the Internet.
What are the penalties for the more common alcohol related offenses involving minors?
Providing or Distributing Alcohol to Minors (regardless of your age) §30-86 – felony - anyone (including brothers and sisters and other minors) who gives alcohol to minors for consumption. Example – 16 year old Sally gets a case of beer from her 23 year old sister and Sally gives it to her high school buddies. Sally and her sister both violated this law.
Risk of Injury to a Minor - §53-21 – felony – anyone who gives alcohol to, or allows consumption of alcohol by, minors 15 years of age or younger. Example – if any of Sally’s friends in the example above are 15 or younger then Sally has violated this law.
Misdemeanors and Infractions:
Using a fake ID - §30-88a – misdemeanor - using a fake ID to purchase alcohol or using a real ID if you aren’t the person in the picture.
Making a false statement to purchase alcohol – §30-89(a) – misdemeanor – trying to talk a person into selling or giving you alcohol by lying about age.
Possession of Alcohol by Minor while driving – §30-89(b)(1) – infraction – possessing alcohol by anyone under 21 on a public street or highway. 60 day license suspension.
Possession of alcohol by Minor in all other circumstances – §30-89(b)(2) – infraction – possessing alcohol anywhere if not driving on public road or highway. 30 day license suspension.
Permitting minors to consume alcohol at home – §30-89a – misdemeanor - knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence permit any minor to possess alcoholic liquor in violation of subsection (b) of section 30-89 in such dwelling unit or on such private property.
Failing to stop Alcohol Possession by Minors at home – §30-89a - misdemeanor - knowing that any minor possesses alcoholic liquor in violation of subsection (b) of section 30-89 in such dwelling unit or on such private property, fail to make reasonable efforts to halt such possession.
The police officer said to just pay the possession of alcohol ticket because it’s only an infraction, so should I?
I think of the many things that the police do which frustrate me this one frustrates me the most. The police tell kids and parents to pay these tickets all the time downplaying the seriousness of the situation and telling them “It’s just an infraction which is just like a traffic violation.” The statement itself is accurate, but it fails miserably by what it leaves out. It leaves out the fact that if you plead guilty to the ticket your child’s right to operate a motor vehicle will be suspended for either 30 or 60 days and will now have an alcohol related suspension on the child’s driving history. I am sure you can guess how well that will go over with your insurance company not to mention the costs and fees associated with reinstating the license after the suspension.
What should I do the police show up at our house during a party?
We have all been conditioned from a young age to cooperate with the police. Can I come into your home? Sure! Can I search your car? Sure! Can I look in your bag? Sure! Can you pop the trunk for me? Sure! Everyone can certainly continue to cooperate with the police regardless of the circumstances. I am not debating whether that is right or wrong, or what you should teach your kids. Everyone simply needs to know that they do not have to cooperate with police or let them into their home, or let them search their car, or let them search their bag, or pop the trunk of your car, or even give them information that they ask you for other than basic identification, unless the police have probable cause. Often times the police are asking for consent because they know they do not have probable cause to search the area they want to search.
There is no detriment or negative that comes from refusing consent. The police will the say things like, “it’ll look better in our report if we tell the prosecutor you cooperated,” or “if you don’t have anything to hide then why won’t you let us search?” It never ceases to surprise me when people let police into their home even though they know there are red solo cups and minors who have been drinking around the house, or booze in the backseat in a backpack, or the trunk of a car, or drugs in the console, and they still give consent to the police thinking it is somehow going to help them.
Honestly, I get it. I have many clients who have gone through the criminal justice system repeatedly who still give the police consent when they know they have contraband that is going to be found in the area that the police are asking to search. Being cooperative with the police is that ingrained in our conscience. That is a great thing for the police (and even maybe for society since we are all interested law enforcement) but a bad thing for the person who’s about to get arrested and that is the person I’m speaking to!!! Always remember, the police get a lot of training on how to manipulate and intimidate people into giving consent.
If the police come knocking on your door, and they can’t provide you a search warrant as required then you have every right to deny them entry into your home. The police then have two choices. They can decide that they have probable cause to search the area, or they have to go and get a warrant. If you give your consent, then you lose the right to argue that the police did not have probable cause. If you refuse consent, then you can argue that the police did not have probable cause to enter your home and were acting on mere suspicion.
You should never try to physically try and stop the police from doing anything, but you do not have to consent to their actions. Don’t orally harass or scream, just state calmly you do not consent.
What is the possible criminal liability for the parents have for underage drinking parties?
The police in Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, Westport and other upscale Fairfield County towns will absolutely arrest the parents who are at home at the time an underage drinking get together is happening (they may also arrest the adult children who are home if no parents are there). Sometimes it seems like they actually enjoy making these types of arrests. We all know it is not always easy to know what is going on in a large home with a lot of rooms and floors as many Fairfield County homes have. Kids can be doing something in the basement while you are up in your bedroom, and you might have no idea about what is going on down there. Maybe there’s a pool or a fire pit short distance away from the main home and some kids have come over to hang out. Are the parents guilty of a crime in every situation where this happens? The easy answer is no, it isn’t always a crime if the parents had no knowledge of what was taking place, and did not act recklessly or negligently, but it is always a risk of being charged with a crime. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing a good job supervising. If you are allowing minors to drink alcohol on your property, or they are doing so without your knowledge you are in harms way. It does not matter if the parents of the other kids have given you permission that their kids can drink at your house. It is illegal to provide alcohol to anyone under 21 that is not your own child. Permission does not matter. The simple fact of the matter is that if you own, rent or are in control of a home or an apartment and people under the age of 21 years drink on that property while you are home you can be arrested. If the police feel that your explanation as to why you didn’t realize drinking was going on is unreasonable, or that you failed to act reasonably, they will arrest you. It is a crime for anyone to provide alcohol knowing that it will be consumed by people under 21 years of age. It is a crime for anyone in control of a home or apartment to act knowingly, recklessly or negligently that people under 21 years of age or drinking on their property to not take steps to prevent such consumption.
Social host law - what can happen to the homeowner from a civil liability standpoint if an underage person is injured on their property as a result of alcohol consumption or is injured shortly after they leave the property and/or injure themselves or injure someone else, is not the subject of this article but the liability is severe and has very serious consequences. You could be liable for millions of dollars in damages and your homeowner’s insurance will very likely deny coverage for those damages.
Do I really need an attorney for these charges?
The best Fairfield County attorneys will advise you that you should use an attorney to fight alcohol related charges if you can afford one. Just because you are charged with one of these crimes doesn’t mean the police can prove the charges against you. The police often arrest everybody who is at a party, or around a campfire where kids are drinking, or in a car where there is alcohol, even though there is no direct evidence implicating your child and the alcohol. They use a theory called “constructive possession.” Constructive possession means that if a person was within the vicinity to have control and dominion over an object then they can be convicted of being in possession of the object even if it wasn’t on their person at the time.
So, when the police come into a situation where there are multiple people, and no one takes responsibility for the alcohol, they will usually arrest everyone that is there and let the courts figure out. “Being there” is not sufficient evidence to convict someone of constructive possession. There must be something additional linking the person to the item they are accused of possessing besides mere presence. The top Stamford, Wilton, Westport and New Canaan possession of alcohol by minors’ attorneys will immediately begin developing the best strategy to fight the charges by investigating the facts of the case and looking for the best evidence to show no crime was committed by you or your child. No one should feel compelled to plead guilty to a criminal charge or infraction simply because it is more expedient to do so. Pleading guilty can have long-lasting impacts on your background record, your driving history, your applications to college, applications for financial aid, and your employment applications. Using a diversionary program (link) unnecessarily can also have a lasting impact if for some reason you need the availability of that program again in the future.
Unfortunately, not everyone can afford a top Stamford, Greenwich, Wilton, or Darien defense attorney, and rarely do people who have a job or own a home qualify for free legal assistance. If you can’t afford an attorney here are some what I hope are helpful tips for handling your case without an attorney.
SafeRide’s instead of Uber and Lyft
Most Fairfield County towns have a SafeRides program. My son participated in the program in Wilton. This is the single, best alternative for any minor looking for a ride home after drinking or looking to get away from the situation where other kids are drinking. The reason I think it is the best alternative is because it is based upon complete confidentiality. Of course, if there is any kind of a medical issue, such as inebriation to the point of throwing up or passing out, they’re going to alert the proper authorities but otherwise it is confidential.
Uber and Lyft drivers on the other hand have no such confidentiality. It has happened where an underage person who has been drinking, or who is leaving a situation where others are drinking, does the responsible thing and calls for a paid service like Uber or Lyft and the driver calls the police if the person is intoxicated or calls the police to report the ongoing party or situation involving underage drinking.
Defending kids and parents accused of possessing alcohol by a minor or serving alcohol to a minor.
My name is Kevin Black and I’ve been defending people in Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Wilton and other affluent Fairfield County towns from police enforcement action for 30 years. If your case is approached in the correct way prosecutors will work with the top Fairfield County criminal defense attorneys to limit the damage done to kids and families as a result of these charges. Do not just pay the ticket or automatically apply for a program if you are accused of violating these alcohol related statutes. Call me today at Bayer & Black P.C. 203-762-0751 for a free consultation to discuss your options.