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For each particular alcohol violation, states’ underage drinking laws either stipulate a specific sanction or establish a range of available sanctions. The nature of these sanctions will be discussed more fully, including whether they should be criminal or noncriminal in nature. It is worth noting, however, that the severity of sanctions varies considerably, from relatively minor fines of $50 to $100 to incarceration (PIRE, 1999). Between these extremes can be found various intermediate sanctions such as required community service, mandated alcohol assessment and treatment, and driver’s license suspension or revocation. In addition, states vary in whether they impose a graduated series of sanctions that attempt to increase the severity of sanctions for subsequent offenses.

There are some fairly universal exceptions to the underage drinking laws that some commentators refer to as loopholes (OIG, 1991). For example, a substantial number of states permit youth to possess and consume alcohol on private property, although the presence or consent of their parents is often required (see Table 8-1). Similarly, roughly half permit youth to drink or handle alcohol when the youth’s parent is involved, although many of these states confine this activity to private property (see Table 8-1). Other exceptions include allowing youth to enter an establishment that serves alcohol when accompanied by a parent/guardian (e.g., ARIZ. REV. STAT. § 4-244 [2002]) and permitting youth to handle alcohol when it is a requirement of employment (e.g., in grocery stores, restaurants) (e.g., ME. REV. STAT. ANN. tit. 28-A, § 2051 [2002]). Youth also may be exempt when they are purchasing alcohol for their parents (e.g., IDAHO CODE § 23-1334 [2002]). Finally, youth may be exempt from these laws when the possession or consumption of alcohol is related to a religious practice (e.g., MICH. COMP. LAWS § 436.1703 [2002]) or for a medical purpose (e.g., ARK. CODE ANN. § 04.16.051 [2002]). Table 8-1 provides excerpts of the statutory language used to establish the private property and parental involvement exceptions.


of a motor vehicle. Similarly, anticonsumption laws make it an offense to consume alcoholic beverages in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NHTSA/NIAAA], 1999). Although these laws are used primarily in conjunction with the operation of a motor vehicle and drunk driving, they can encompass nondriving scenarios such as when youth consume alcohol in a stationary motor vehicle. Because underage drinking often occurs in remote locations, such as parks and beaches (Mayer, Forster, Murray, and Wagenaar, 1998), a stationary motor vehicle may be where youth are found to be drinking and these laws may thus become the means for applying sanctions targeted at underage drinking unrelated to the operation of a motor vehicle.

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