Four out of every five college students consume alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. That is a lot of underage drinking, since 21 is the legal age to consume alcohol in Ohio and all other U.S. states and most students begin college right out of high school at age 18 or 19.

While the health and social dangers of drinking are well publicized, in an atmosphere where almost everyone in college of any age seems to be partying, it is worth a second thought about the legal ramifications of getting caught by the authorities. An underage university student could get busted for drinking alcohol at an on- or off-campus party, at a bar using a fake ID or behind the wheel of a car after being stopped by police.

While college can sometimes feel like an extension of high school, one big difference is that if you are 18 or older you can be charged with crimes as an adult. Adult crimes generally carry stiffer sentences and more permanent and publicly accessible criminal records than juvenile offenses do.

Crimes related to underage consumption of alcohol apply to adults 18 to 20 years old. It may not seem fair that at 18 you can vote, sign legal contracts and join the military, but still be convicted of a crime for drinking alcohol. Even if you feel that you are drinking responsibly, however, drinking under 21 is still a crime in Ohio.

Crimes related to underage drinking in the Buckeye State that could involve college or university students include:

  • Underage possession, consumption or purchase of alcohol in a public or private place
  • Being knowingly under the influence of alcohol in a public place as an underage person
  • Furnishing alcohol to minors, which can arise when students 21 or older provide alcohol to underage students
  • Using, lending, transferring, selling, manufacturing or distributing a fake ID
  • Driving with a blood-alcohol concentration or BAC of above 0.02 if you are under 21

(For some of these crimes, exceptions are made in Ohio when the activity is under the supervision of a parent, guardian or adult spouse; for a religious purpose; or prescribed by a doctor.)

Depending on the circumstances and crime charged, negative consequences for a conviction could include jail time or fines. In addition, having a criminal record could restrict future employment or educational opportunities. The college or university you attend such as the University of Toledo could impose its own disciplinary actions.

It is extremely important for any Ohio college or university student who is investigated or arrested for or charged with any of these underage drinking offenses to get a criminal defense lawyer as early as possible. Legal counsel will fight to protect the defendant student’s legal rights before and after any charges are brought, including negotiating with the prosecutor or seeking admission to a pretrial diversion program, if appropriate. If necessary, an attorney will fight for a fair trial and sentence, if it comes to that.

If you are facing underage drinking charges in Ohio, do not attempt to go it alone. The potentially negative consequences are just too great.