Legal Issues Related to Underage Drinking in Massachusetts
Underage drinking in Massachusetts is treated very seriously. By “underage” it means aged under 21. In most circumstances, you cannot purchase, provide or drink alcohol in Massachusetts if you are aged under 21. That age limit doesn’t exempt older people from involvement in underage drinking. Even if you are a parent or guardian and left your 20 year old child in your own home while away at the weekend, you could face a criminal charge if that child is found to have been drinking or providing alcohol on your premises while you were away.
Whatever you think of the Massachusetts underage drinking laws, it is wise to be aware of what they are and how they might concern you as an older person or your children or their friends.
What the term “underage drinking” means
Underage drinking in Massachusetts is a state offense which applies to anyone who
- drinks alcohol when under the age of 21;
- possesses alcohol when under the age of 21;
- purchases alcohol when under the age of 21;
- uses someone else’s I.D. to acquire alcohol when under the age of 21;
- provides alcohol to another underage person when under 21 years of age.
There are some very limited exceptions to these rules.
Exceptions to the underage drinking limits
There are some exceptions to the law on underage drinking. If a parent or legal guardian offers or provides alcohol to their under 21 year old child or ward, then this is permitted. Under 21s can also legally transport alcohol as part of their job as long as they don’t drink any of it and they are aged 18 or older.
Underage drinking has legal implications for older people too
Just because you are 21 or over doesn’t mean you can’t be caught up in an underage drinking infringement and face fines or even jail time. You may only legally provide alcohol to a person aged under 21 if you are their parent or legal guardian. This distinction can lead to issues when your under 21 year old child has a friend or friends around with them who are also under 21. Even offering a beer to your child’s friend is illegal in Massachusetts despite the fact that your own child can be given the same beer. This is often known as Massachusetts “Social Host” Law. It doesn’t just apply to people 21 and over. It applies to under 21s too. For example, if an 18 year old college aged student throws a party somewhere and provides alcohol, not only can they be charged for drinking the alcohol themselves, but can also be charged for providing it to others who are also under 21.
Penalties for underage drinking infringements
There are a number of penalties that could be imposed on both underage drinkers and those who are 21 and over caught up in underage drinking infringements.
- Anyone aged under 21 who is caught drinking alcohol or possessing alcohol could face a fine and driver’s license suspension. For a first offense, the fine is only $50, but this rises to $150 for any further offenses and is accompanied by a 90 day suspension of the driver’s license.
- Anyone aged under 21 could face a fine of $300 and a license suspension of up to 180 days for purchasing alcohol or asking someone of legal age to purchase alcohol on their behalf.
- Anyone who is under 21 who uses someone of legal age’s I.D. or driver’s license to purchase alcohol could face a $200 fine an up to 3 months in jail.
- Anyone of any age who knowingly provides alcohol to or allows alcohol to be drunk by anyone under 21, unless they are that person’s parent or guardian, could face a $3,000 fine and potentially a jail sentence of up to a year.
Drunk driving laws as they apply to under 21s
While acquiring a driver’s license is a privilege at any age and not a right, driving can still be dangerous. Despite the strict underage drinking laws, Massachusetts allows people who are aged over 16 and a half and have already had a learner’s permit to apply for a driver’s license. They have to have had 6 months on a learner’s permit and pass a multiple choice test. That means that anyone 16 and 6 months old may be deemed safe enough to drive, but not to drink.
While a person aged under 21 cannot (in most cases) drink and may face fines and in some cases jail time for underage drinking infringements, they can still drive. However, if caught having had a blood alcohol level of 0.02% or above and were driving, the penalties may be far higher. Drunk driving for adults (i.e. 21 or older) is also severely restricted. Anyone of legal age for drinking who is caught with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more may be charged with a drink driving offense (DUI) and potentially face harsh penalties, but for anyone under 21 the penalties are even more severe. If convicted, an underage drunk driver can face fines, license suspension and jail time.
Legal age drinking isn’t without risks!
Even those who are of legal age to drink can get into trouble and cause themselves and others harm or end up dead if they drink and drive. Other than the strict rules about drunk driving, there are other laws that older people might not be aware of. For example, if you have a party or have other people around to your own home and alcohol is involved, you might be legally responsible for allowing intoxicated guests to leave your home and drive away. If they have an accident while drunk driving, and injure someone, you might be charged under the same Social Host laws as affect underage drinking. Even if a guest gets drunk and is injured or injures someone else, you could still be liable. Your homeowner insurance may not be sufficient to cover any fines or lawsuits against you in these circumstances.