Alcohol-related offenses have strict punishments in Virginia and underage possession of alcohol charges are no exception. It is easy to be at a party or in a car and have the police sneak up on you. Before you know it, you're observed holding a beer and, later, a summons for underage alcohol possession. The good news is there are things that be done in underage alcohol possession cases to avoid a conviction. We offer a Free Consultation to discuss your case. Give us a call or use the contact form below.
What is Underage Alcohol Possession?
Underage Alcohol Possession is defined under §4.1-305 as, essentially, possessing alcohol by an individual less than 21 years of age. The statute also includes those who are interdicted and/or intoxicated. However, the majority of the cases revolve around minors and those under 21 years of age who possess alcohol.
An example of sufficient evidence of underage possession of alcohol is found in Hale v. Commonwealth, 23 Va. App. 587 (1996). In that case, the Defendant was under the age of 21, there was an odor of alcohol about his person, an Alcosensor test confirmed the presence of alcohol, and the Defendant told the officer that he had consumed a beer earlier. As a result, there was enough evidence to sustain a conviction.
Underage Possession of Alcohol Penalties:
Underage Possession of Alcohol is a Class 1 Misdemeanor. As a result, there is a jail sentence possibility of up to 12 months and $2500 fine. However, such an extreme penalty is generally not handed down by the court. Rather, the statute dictates that the convicted individual shall be ordered to pay a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or to perform a mandatory minimum of 50 hours of community service. Additionally, the individual's license to drive in Virginia shall be suspended for at least six months (but not more than one year). Upon a demonstration of hardship, the court is permitted by the statute to issue a restricted permit. Finally, the court may require the individual to attend an alcohol safety action program (ASAP) as a condition of probation.
Any adult who has not previously been convicted of underage alcohol possession is eligible for a first-offender program. While it is not required, the court may defer the proceedings, if it finds enough evidence to establish guilt, and later dismiss the charge if the individual complies with the terms and conditions set forth by the court. Generally, the court will require good behavior (no new charges) and many Judges will suspend the individual's privilege to drive in Virginia for six months. The court may also require ASAP if appropriate. Upon completion of the terms, the charge is dismissed and there is no conviction. The charge is not expungeable due to the guilty finding made by the court but, certainly, a dismissal is much better than a conviction.
Do I need a Lawyer?
It is strongly recommended you appear in court with a lawyer who regularly practices such cases. The lawyer can challenge the alcosenor breath test that says whether the individual has alcohol in their system. Additionally, many times, there is no alcosensor breath test and the officer is only going on alcohol odor and the fact they were at a party. These facts should not sustain a conviction.
Many times, by agreement with the prosecutor, a plea deal can be worked out that requires a period of community service. Upon completion of the community service, an order of nolle prosequi is later entered. This result is more favorable than the 1st offender program because there is no license suspension, no ASAP, and it is later expungeable.