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Virginia Underage Drinking Laws and FAQs

In Virginia, it is illegal for a person under age 21 to purchase, possess or even attempt to purchase alcohol. The limited exception to this law includes the consumption of alcohol by a minor while on private property that does not sell alcohol and with consent of a legal guardian. Penalties for underage possession of alcohol are severe, so a charge should not be taken lightly.

At The Law Office of Louis K. Nagy, PLC, in Harrisonburg, we routinely defend clients against charges of underage possession of alcohol. The objective is to minimize the impact the charge has on a young person’s life and it is important to know the facts about this charge, how to defend against it and the possible ramifications of a conviction. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

Q: What are the penalties for underage possession of alcohol in Virginia?

A: If you are between age 18 and 20, a conviction for underage possession or consumption of alcohol is a Class 1 misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and often results in either a minimum fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service. Your driver’s license will be suspended for at least six months and possibly up to one year. Further, the court may order you to complete substance abuse counseling.

Q: What if someone is under 18 and charged with possession or consumption of alcohol?

A: Individuals who are under 18 are tried in juvenile court. A minor who is between 16 and 18 and who has a driver’s license will have that license suspended or delayed for six months. If the minor is not 16 years old or does not have a driver’s license, he or she will be prevented from applying for a driver’s license for six months past the date they would have otherwise been eligible. A minor must also complete a substance abuse counseling program.

Q: Can a person who is convicted of underage possession of alcohol get a restricted driver’s license?

A: Often, it is possible for a person under 21 to get a restricted driver’s license that allows him or her to drive to and from a job, to obtain medical care, to attend religious services once a week or to attend court-ordered counseling sessions.

Q: What if it is the first time I have been arrested for underage possession of alcohol?

A: A person who does not have a prior conviction for underage possession or consumption of alcohol may be eligible for an alternative sentencing program that requires completion of a number of community service hours and completion of an alcohol education program. If you complete the program, complete the community service and do not have any subsequent legal issues during your probation period, the charges can be dismissed. It is important to work with an attorney who understands how this program works and how to petition the court to be admitted to it.

Q: What other repercussions could a conviction for underage possession of alcohol have?

A: A person under 21 who is convicted of possession or consumption of alcohol could lose scholarships or be denied admission to a college or university. He or she may face forfeiture of the right to participate in school sports or other school programs, or be expelled from school completely.

Q: Can I be arrested if I do not have alcohol in my possession when police stop me?

A: The simple answer in Virginia is, yes. If you appear to be intoxicated or if law enforcement authorities have good reason to believe that you have alcohol in your system, they might arrest you and ask you to submit to a blood or breath test. An alternative charge that you may face is public intoxication, which is less serious than underage possession, but should still be taken seriously.

Q: Is having a fake ID a crime?

A: In Virginia, possession of a manufactured or altered driver’s license, or use of someone else’s driver’s license as your own is against the law. Conviction may result in up to six months in jail. It is also illegal to loan your license to someone else to use, or to make, sell or distribute false IDs. Fake ID charges/convictions can also have collateral consequences for young people later applying for security clearances.

Consult With An Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

Law enforcement authorities in Rockingham, Augusta and Shenandoah Counties are tough on underage drinking and underage possession of alcohol offenses. It is critical to enlist the help of a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer like those at our firm as early as possible in the process in order to minimize the impact an arrest has on a young person. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us by email or call 540-315-8450.