Although the use of alcohol by those over age 21 is legal, the regulation of alcohol use and its abuse plays an important role in many criminal offenses. The laws of most states work to ensure that certain individuals, such as minors, do not have access to alcohol, and that those who use alcohol do so in a safe and responsible manner. According to the National Partnership on Alcohol Misuse and Crime, there are very good reasons for these laws. Nearly 40 percent of those convicted for criminal offenses were drinking at the time of their arrests. Additionally, more than 13,000 people are killed each year as a result of alcohol-related accidents.
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Preventing Alcohol Use by Minors
One subset of alcohol-related crimes consists of laws directed at preventing minors from obtaining or using alcohol prior to turning 21. In every state, laws have been enacted that prevent minors from using alcohol because they are found to lack the maturity to handle it properly. These laws criminalize the actions of minors who do use alcohol, including charging them with minor in possession of alcohol or with an underage DUI. However, they also criminalize selling or supplying alcohol to minors in order to deter adults and alcohol stores from capitalizing on this demographic. The punishments can be very significant for stores, bars, and restaurants that sell to minors, including revocation of a license for operation.
Keeping the Public Safe
In addition to keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors, alcohol-related laws also criminalize the use of alcohol in situations that may place other individuals at risk. The most common of these crimes is driving under the influence. DUI is a very severe traffic and alcohol-related offense that kills or harms a significant number of people every year. Because it has the potential to greatly injure others, driving under the influence is punished harshly in many states. As a variant of driving a vehicle under the influence, some states also criminalize boating under the influence because this also creates a situation where individuals with impaired capacity are put behind the wheel of a powerful mode of transport.
In order to effectively prosecute drivers who drive under the influence of alcohol, law enforcement requires the cooperation of all drivers on the road. If a driver is stopped under suspicion of intoxication but refuses to participate in the necessary DUI testing, this creates extra hassle and expense for police officers and prevents them from doing their duty. For this reason, many states now criminalize refusing to perform a field sobriety test or refusing to perform a Breathalyzer or provide a blood sample.
Finally, many states also work to keep their streets and public spaces welcome and inviting by prohibiting individuals from engaging in public intoxication. For similar reasons, they also often prevent partygoers and others from drinking in public by outlawing the presence of open containers in public under their open container laws.