Unlawful Possession of Alcohol is a violation level offense in New Hampshire and is therefore considered a civil infraction. However, it carries a penalty of a minimum fine of $372.00, and up to $1,000.00, and also a potential license suspension of up to one year, even if you were not driving a car at the time. Also, a conviction gets reported to the Division of Motor Vehicles and therefore appears on the driving record. Most violations are removable from your record after one year, but for this Alcohol conviction you must wait until you are 21 to petition the court to have it removed. (A second offense carries an even greater fine than the first and up to two years loss of license.)
The local police department often encounter people under 21 with cups or un-labeled containers with alcohol. It can be difficult to prove that the substance in the container is an alcoholic beverage because of the court rules and evidentiary requirements to preserve evidence. There are often legal issues in even the simplest of cases that lay persons are unfamiliar with. It is important to use all the legal tools available to avoid a public record that can affect you in future employment or current status as a UNH or college student.
If you are under the age of 21 and you get charged with this offense you will be given a bail bond form indicating when you have to go to court. The first court date is usually the arraignment, and not the trial date. An arraignment is a preliminary hearing where the Judge will review the case to make sure the defendant is aware of the charge against him or her and allow them to enter an initial plea. Most people enter a “not guilty” plea at arraignment which preserves all their rights to later have a trial or negotiate a plea bargain. If you plead “guilty” at arraignment the judge will find you guilty and sentence you that day. It is almost impossible to undue a guilty plea. If you plead “not guilty” the court will assign a trial date that is usually a month or two away. (Pleading “not guilty” is like saying “not ready yet” and simply puts off the final decision.) You will have that additional time to decide what to do. It is best to seek legal representation before the arraignment, but you can also plead “not guilty” and contact Criminal Defense Attorney Joanne M. Stella after the arraignment for a free consultation.