When it comes to underage drinking – in Texas or anywhere – is there possibly any better advice than the simple, “don’t do it”?
But if everyone took that advice, there wouldn’t be the need for the large number of laws and penalties tied to underage drinking. And make no mistake: Texas takes this issue seriously. So if you, your friends or relatives are considering possessing, consuming, or purchasing alcohol for someone under age 18 in the Lone Star State, you’d best be ready to know the facts and the consequences.
Definition of Underage in Texas
The minimum age for drinking in Texas varies according to where and by whom the alcohol is served. Alcohol servers (e.g. bartenders, waiters) must be at least 18 in places where beer, wine and spirits are sold. The age for drinking, however, is 21. (It wasn’t always the case: The minimum drinking was 18 in 1971, raised to 19 in 1979, then finally to 21 in 1984, primarily due to drunk-driving instances.)
There are exceptions – Texans younger than 21 can drink at home under the supervision and permission of an adult. But the adult must be on the premises when the minor is served alcohol. “Interestingly, Texas doesn’t allow the consumption of alcohol by minors for religious, medical or government work-related purposes,” notes DrinkingMap.com. “However, the presence of a parent or adult guardian can allow for drinking in all these circumstances. The basic issue is that minors have to be supervised when drinking in Texas.”
Use of a False ID
To put it bluntly: it’s dangerous to your driving privileges. Texas’ “use it and lose it” law (the “use” being alcohol) considers using a false ID to purchase alcohol a criminal offense, so you could end up facing a judge and possible jail time. At the very least, you may lose your driver’s license. Other instances that can cost you your license include underage possession or consumption.
Penalties for Underage Drinking
Ok, so you’re aware of the laws but decide to buy, possess and/or drink anyway. The Texas Department of Transportation will have a say in your fate. If you’re a minor found possessing alcohol – not even drinking it, just possessing it – you could be looking at a $500 fine, a 30-80 day license suspension, up to 40 hours of community service and mandatory alcohol-awareness classes.
That’s for your first offense. For subsequent charges, the penalties increase to $2,000 fine and jail time of up to 180 days.
But what if you’re a minor caught drinking and driving? For a first offense the same penalties as possession apply. You can get penalties that include jail and a hefty fine.
“A minor with previous alcohol-related convictions will have his or her driver’s license suspended for one year if the minor does not attend alcohol awareness training that has been required by the judge,” notes the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Penalties for Adults
If you’re an adult who’s made the choice to buy or serve a minor alcohol, you can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $4,000, up to a year in jail or both. And, of course, your own driver’s license will be revoked for a period of time.
Someone over 21 who is not the minor’s parent or guardian can be held liable for damages caused by the minor while under the influence.
Is It Worth It?
Peer pressure, party excitement or just the feeling that “I can handle it” are just some of the reasons a minor might choose alcohol. But between losing your driver’s license and having a misdemeanor or criminal act on your permanent record (something to consider when you’re applying for a job), the payoff of drinking as a minor simply doesn’t look worth the risk.
If you do get pulled over or otherwise charged with underage possession, consumption or sale of alcohol, you’ll want to seek out legal representation with a specialty in issues of minors and alcohol. Be honest with your attorney and be prepared to face Texas’ special consequences.
*Image courtesy of James Palinsad