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This Holiday Season, Don’t Be a Turkey by Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano

 Courier News article with QR Code

Here is a scenario for all to consider as the holiday season approaches:

Tom Terkee is 20 and has been able to alter the driver’s license of his 24-year-old brother, replacing his brother’s photo with his own. Home for holiday break, Tom walks into a bar one evening, shows the license to the bartender and orders and drinks a couple of beers with fellow high school alumni. Before last call, Tom and his buddies decide to go to a party hosted by an old girlfriend. Before leaving, Tom buys a case of beer. At the party, Tom shares his beer with his buddies — all of whom are under 21. Upon leaving the party, Tom takes the last six-pack and puts it on the floor in his car. Driving home, Tom loses control and has a head-on collision with another car resulting in serious injuries to a passenger in the other car and to Tom. Tests reveal Tom’s blood alcohol concentration of .12 percent.

Tom has a variety of legal problems — criminal and civil. I will focus on the criminal. Altering and presenting the driver’s license gets Tom a charge of tampering with public records or information, a disorderly persons offense. Tom’s acts of (1) entering the bar for the purpose of buying beer, (2) misrepresenting his age and (3) consuming alcohol in the bar are all, under New Jersey’s intoxicating liquor laws, illegal and constitute disorderly persons offenses. By sharing his beer with his buddies, Tom commits another offense. By knowingly possessing the beer in his car, Tom commits yet another disorderly persons offense. The collision would likely result in a number of motor vehicle violations, including driving while intoxicated (DWI). Beyond that, for injuries to the passenger, Tom would face assault by auto or, possibly, aggravated assault, 3rd- and 2nd-degree crimes, respectively.
Tom faces substantial fines and penalties. The disorderly persons offenses alone carry fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Like the DWI, many of the underage alcohol-related violations require suspension of Tom’s driver’s license. Tom could face three to five years in state prison for assault by auto, and, for aggravated assault, five to 10 years. In short, this holiday party is costly in terms of fines, legal fees and increased insurance costs, not to mention likely jail and suspension of driving privileges.

From a practical perspective, the analysis is no better. Any one of Tom’s crimes carries serious consequences. The impact on many of the things Tom likely takes for granted — finishing college, launching a career, running for elective office, starting a family or coaching children — is devastating.
The perils of underage drinking — the social, physical, school and legal problems — have led legislators to create laws like those I mentioned. Police and prosecutor are charged with the responsibility of enforcing those laws, and, I assure you, in Somerset County that mission is taken very seriously. The "Cops in Shops" initiative, DWI checkpoints and enhanced enforcement efforts will be in place this holiday season and, unfortunately, it is likely that underage drinking will be at the root of many of the arrests.

While we may never put a stop to underage drinking, the battle to do so is being waged forcefully. Organizations like EmPoWER Somerset are invaluable resources for our youth, as well as their parents and guardians. Take advantage of these resources.

This holiday season, be mindful that even a single instance of poor judgment can eliminate a lifetime of opportunities.