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A Florida lawyer breaks down the law: When minors drink and smoke

Here’s what can happen when a night out involving minors and alcohol turns illegal.

By Troy Rafferty, Attorney at Law
It’s important for minors to know the law before they head to a party or throw one themselves.

A laid-back holiday house party might seem harmless — until it isn’t.

Small get-togethers with friends can turn into raucous, alcohol-fueled bashes that end in arrests, fines and possibly jail time for those involved. Even if you’re just driving your friends around all night, something as small as a misplaced item could mean a misdemeanor charge for you.

That’s why it’s important to know the law before you head to a party or throw one of your own.

Here are three common scenarios involving alcohol, tobacco and drug paraphernalia that could put you, your friends or even your family in legal jeopardy.

Scenario No. 1: You’re 19, and your parents are out of town for the weekend. Party time! Your friends range in age from 18 to 24, so it’s not hard to get plenty of beer. Things are getting loud when the cops show up. What can you expect?

If you possess alcohol and you’re under 21, you can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor for a first offense. If you’ve been found guilty of this charge before, then the charge is a first-degree misdemeanor. Either way, your driver’s license will be suspended for six months to a year for a first violation or two years for a subsequent violation.

If you’re 21 or older and found guilty of supplying a minor with alcohol, you are guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor. And you might be surprised to learn that your parents could possibly be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor for allowing a house party to occur. The penalty for a second-degree misdemeanor is a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

A common misconception is that what you do on your own property is your own business. While in many ways that’s true, the Florida statutes on underage drinking apply even on private property.

Scenario No. 2: You were at a party last night, and you drove some friends home. You’re not into drugs, but a couple of the guys you gave a ride to smoke pot, and one of them apparently left a pipe in your car. There’s no marijuana in it. Can you get in trouble for having it, even if you’re just trying to figure out whom to give it back to?

Everybody knows it’s against the law to have illegal drugs, but you might not realize that being in possession of paraphernalia is illegal as well. The smallest amount of residue from marijuana in the pipe is enough to get you a misdemeanor charge of the first degree.

Scenario No. 3: You’re 17, and an 18-year-old friend buys cigarettes for you. What can happen if you get caught?

Your friend can be charged with furnishing tobacco products to someone underage, which is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable by imprisonment not to exceed 60 days and up to a $500 fine. You can be charged with possession, a noncriminal violation. You might be punished with 16 hours of community service or a $25 fine. In addition, you may also have to attend a school-approved anti-tobacco program. Your driver’s license can also be suspended.

Despite the legal consequences, the most serious dangers of a night out involving alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs is injury to self and others!

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.

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