Murphy Halts Penalties for Underage Public Drinking
The summer of 2023 had seen much underage drinking not only in Cape May County but much all over the state of New Jersey.
What made this increase of underage drinking was the introduction of decriminalizing public drinking for those under 21.
Under the law enacted and enforced in 2021, police are prohibited from conducting searches of young individuals for concealed beer cans, and they are not allowed to stop them based on the smell of marijuana.
Instead, officers can issue written warnings to individuals under 21 found with either marijuana or alcohol. However, these warnings must adhere to certain restrictions, raising concerns among both parents and law enforcement.
Many towns can attest that this law has led to significant issues, particularly in shore towns, impacting those under 21. When people go on vacation, they often tend to relax, a behavior that extends to young adults.
These individuals sometimes choose to unwind on beaches or boardwalks, where they may lack control over their alcohol or marijuana intake due to their age.
This combination of factors has resulted in various problems, including increased fights, large and uncontrollable gatherings, and the unwelcome smell of marijuana.
In response, the state was seeking to address these issues by introducing fines for those caught underage. Unlike the previous practice of issuing warnings, individuals can now face fines for such violations.
The Identical Bill Number: S3954, was first Introduced in June of last summer before being passed by the Senate and Assembly on January 8th but was voted by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.
In a response to the bill, Governor Murphy expressed reservations about the proposed fines and advocated for changes in the legislation.
The proposed bill not only addresses fines for juvenile alcohol possession but also amends the provisions related to law enforcement officers’ interactions with juveniles suspected of possessing alcohol or marijuana.
Governor Murphy highlights that a previous amendment to N.J.S.A. 2C:30-6.1 lowered the threshold for law enforcement officers to be found guilty of deprivation of civil rights in such cases.
The current bill seeks to revert that section to its original language, emphasizing that the aggrieved individual must prove that the officer acted with the purpose of intimidating or discriminating based on a protected characteristic.
Governor Murphy argues that fines and fees do not effectively deter delinquent behavior and may lead to repeated encounters with the criminal legal system for affluent individuals.
Additionally, the Governor emphasizes that juveniles without financial resources, disproportionately individuals of color, may face further legal consequences due to non-payment, affecting not only the juvenile but the entire family unit.
The recommended amendments would include changed that allow law enforcement to issue written warnings to individuals under the age of 21 found in possession of alcohol.
In cases involving individuals under the age of 18, the police have the authority to notify parents or guardians. Repeat offenders will receive educational materials and may be referred to social services programs for further intervention.