The prevalence of underage drinking, both in reality and in popular media, often gives it the aura of being socially acceptable. While that may or may not be true, what is absolutely true is that underage drinking is still very much illegal in the United States.
Many states have what are known as “minor in possession” laws, or MIP laws. California is no exception, and any person under the age of twenty-one caught by law enforcement in possession of alcoholic beverages can be prosecuted for criminal activity.
Additionally, minor in possession laws often serve as a way for communities to help minors avoid more serious consequences down the road, like DUIs. To this end, many MIP violations also include mandatory enrollment in programs to:
- Educate minors about the dangers of drinking and driving
- Get chemical dependency treatment and help for minors
- Involve minors in community service
It’s important to know, however, that repeat violations for underage drinking often result in more severe punishments. A second or third violation may include heavier fines, more community service, and/or suspension of driver’s license.
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Possession Versus Consumption
Most MIP laws, including California’s, don’t require a minor to be actively drinking or drunk to be in violation. A minor can be prosecuted for underage drinking under the following conditions:
- At the time of the offense, the person was under 21
- He or she possessed an alcoholic beverage
- The possession occurred in any public place, in a place open to the public, or on any street or highway
Many minors caught with alcohol try and argue that “it wasn’t theirs” and so they shouldn’t be prosecuted. But unless the container is completely empty (in which case there is no alcohol), it doesn’t matter if it’s in a person’s hand, on the floor next to them, on the curb, or whatever else they may try and argue – the law sees all of those as possession.
Penalties For Underage Drinking
Underage drinking is a misdemeanor, and minors who are convicted under California’s MIP laws will face some or all of the following penalties:
- A $250 fine for a first offense, $500 or more for each subsequent offense
- 24-32 hours of community service at an alcohol treatment center or at a county coroner’s office
- Mandatory participation in a youthful drunk-driver program
- A one year driver’s license suspension. If the minor does not have a driver’s license, they are given a one year delay before they can obtain it.
Those under eighteen at the time of the offense will be processed through the California Juvenile Court System. This means that instead of a jury trial, the case will be determined by a California juvenile adjudication hearing.
If the judge “sustains” the petition, it is equivalent to a guilty verdict and the misdemeanor will become part of the defendant’s permanent criminal record.
Getting Legal Help With Underage Drinking Violations
There are ways to both defend against prosecution for underage drinking, and reduce the charges and penalties if convicted.
If you’ve been charged with underage possession of alcohol, contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney to evaluate of your case.