It’s prom season, a time when it’s a good idea to remind your teenagers, as they prepare to party, that they can have a lot of fun without drinking alcohol. In Virginia, you need to be 21 years old to drink legally.
First, let’s be absolutely clear about what we mean by an alcoholic drink, because even a very small amount of alcohol in a mixed drink can get an underage drinker in trouble. According to virginiarules.com, “The term ‘alcoholic beverages’ is defined in Code of Virginia § 4.1-100 as including ‘alcohol, spirits, wine, and beer, and any one or more of such varieties containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume, including mixed alcoholic beverages, and every liquid or solid, powder or crystal, patented or not, containing alcohol, spirits, wine, or beer.”
Be sure your children know that the act of possessing or purchasing alcohol before they reach 21 years of age is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor. It carries with it a fine of up to $2,500 and/or a year in jail if convicted. The mandated minimum penalty is $500 or a mandatory 50 hours of community service. Perhaps even tougher for the underage drinker is the automatic suspension of his or her driver’s license for at least six months. The court may also order substance abuse education, counseling and treatment.
What if your teen combines drinking with driving? One result of Virginia’s “Zero Tolerance” policy is that the state has some of the toughest laws in the U.S. for DUI minors. Under Code of Virginia § 18.2-266.1, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle after illegally consuming alcohol. Breaking that law is also a Class 1 misdemeanor, and punishment includes a full year’s suspension of the underage drinker’s driver’s license.
If the prom is held at school and teenagers drink illegally, the school is required by law to notify the local law enforcement agency when any student has committed certain offenses, including any conduct involving alcohol. (Code of Virginia § 22.1- 279.3:1 (D). The offender is subject to both school disciplinary action and criminal action.