It is not uncommon for law enforcement agencies to team up and carry out joint operations here in New Jersey. Usually they target alleged drug trafficking or child pornography rings; these high-profile cases generate a lot of publicity for police and prosecutors as they file felony charges with long-term consequences against defendants. A recent undercover mission, however, may surprise readers at the efforts exerted and the results obtained.
The initiative was the product of coordination between one county’s police department and the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. But undercover detectives were not staking out suspected meth labs or brothels; they were at area restaurants, including a TGI Friday’s. The goal of the joint operation was to crack down on underage drinking.
At the TGI Friday’s, an undercover officer accosted a male customer allegedly having a drink with a woman. The male, according to reports, was 17 years old; the woman was of legal drinking age. The teenager was taken to county police headquarters and issued with a juvenile complaint. His date and the waitress who served them also were charged for providing him with alcohol. One other restaurant saw a number of young men and women in their late teens and early twenties charged for minor consumption of alcohol, allegedly obtained using fake identification.
Operations like this give officials a brief moment in the spotlight to tout their supposed “tough on crime” credentials, but for young New Jersey residents swept up in an underage drinking operation, the consequences could last well into their adult lives. College and many good-paying jobs may be out of reach to applicants with convictions for juvenile crimes on their records. And, of course, short-term penalties like the loss of a driver’s license can also have an impact.
Fortunately, legal options may be available to juvenile defendants that can help resolve their cases out of court. And like anyone else, they are entitled to a presumption of innocence if they do choose to fight back against the charges in court.