Minor in possession laws (sometimes called underage drinking laws) target sales of alcohol to minors and public possession of alcohol by minors. Since the passage in 1984 of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (23 U.S.C.A. § 158), all states have had to raise their minimum drinking age to 21. States that did not risked lowering the amount of highway funds they receive under the Federal Highway Act. All states presently comply with the Drinking Age Act.
Importantly, the national law (and most state counterparts) target public possession, not private possession (although some states have additional laws concerning alcohol possessed or consumed on private property).
To jump ahead to the laws for minor in possession in your state, go here.
What is “Alcohol”?
The Drinking Age Act defines alcohol as
- “beer, ale, porter, stout, and other similar fermented beverages (including saké or similar products) of any name or description containing one-half of 1 percent or more of alcohol by volume, brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute therefor” (26 U.S.C.A. § 5052(a)
- wine of not less than .5% alcohol by volume (23 U.S.C.A. § 158(c)(3)), or
- distilled spirits (also referred to as “alcoholic spirits” and “spirits”), or those substances known as ethyl alcohol, ethanol, or spirits of wine in any form (including all dilutions and mixtures thereof from whatever source or by whatever process produced) (26 U.S.C.A. § 5002(8))
What Constitutes “Public Possession”?
Under the Drinking Age act, public possession does not apply in these circumstances:
- A minor’s use of alcohol for an established religious purpose, as long as the minor is accompanied by parent, legal guardian over the age of 21, or spouse
- Medical purposes, as long as a licensed physician, dentist, nurse, hospital, medical institution, or pharmacist administers the alcohol
- In private clubs or establishments, or
- During lawful employment by a licensed manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer.
How States Regulate Under-Age Drinking
All states may regulate alcohol distribution and sale (under Article XXI of the United States Constitution, which repealed Prohibition). States also address underage drinking, targeting a number of activities. Common issues include:
- Sales to minors. Shops or others are prohibited from selling, providing, or giving alcohol to minors.
- Purchase of alcohol by minors. Minors in turn are prohibited from buying or otherwise obtaining alcohol from vendors.
- Possession of alcohol by minors. Although the federal law provides its own exceptions (see above), many states have written their own, such as exempting use by minors while under their parents’ supervision (California), or possession during the course of employment (such as a waiter serving alcohol).
- Minors’ consumption. Some states prohibit or limit consumption, regardless of the circumstances
- Minors’ misrepresentation of age. In most states, it’s a separate offense for minors to misrepresent their age for the purpose of buying or obtaining alcohol.
Penalties for Minor in Possession Violations
State laws punish both the provider of the alcohol and the minor who has intentionally obtained it.
Penalties for Minors
Minors who break the law may be charged with criminal offenses, and if convicted, face jail sentences, fines, diversion programs (supervised counseling, which often results in dropped charges if the minor participates successfully in the program), and sentences such as a number of hours of community service.
Penalties for Providers
Vendors who sell or give alcohol to minors may be violating state and/or local criminal law, as well as state administrative codes. Criminal penalties may include fines and jail time. Administrative consequences can include license revocations, fines, suspensions of the right to sell or serve alcohol, or the revocation of alcohol licenses. In states that prohibit private consumption, hosts of private parties may face jail or fines.
Aggressive Minor in Possession State Laws
Some states are more aggressive than others in regulating sales to and possession by minors. For example:
- Entering bars. Aside from the employment exception noted above, many states bar youth from entering bars, cocktail lounges, and other establishments that are primarily drinking establishments.
- Kegger laws. Some states, such as California, have “kegger laws,” that require vendors to tag a keg with the purchaser’s identification. (Ca. Bus. & Prof. Law § 25659.5) If law enforcement finds a tagged keg at a private party where minors are drinking, they can trace the keg back to the purchaser, who might face civil or criminal penalties.
- Penalties. Some states provide for effective punishment for minors besides fines and jail time, such as drivers’ license suspension.
- Making false IDs more difficult to obtain. Some states cut down on the ability to obtain false IDs by prohibiting their manufacture and sale, and providing for significant penalties; making it illegal for youth to lie about their age in order to obtain an ID; and making false IDs less easy to make by issuing cards that cannot be copied.
Legal Help for Minor in Possession Charges
Minors who are charged with MIP, particularly when it’s the first time, may receive counseling, community service, or other non-punitive sentences. Minors in other states may face stiffer consequences. And besides the letter of the law, the approach of local police, prosecutors, and judges will determine to a large degree how these cases are handled. A lot depends on the local political and social view of underage drinking.
Because the local response to MIP is so important to know, it may be a good idea to at least consult with a local lawyer who is familiar with how these cases are handled in your city or area. You may learn that it should not be necessary, given your circumstances, to hire counsel to represent you. Or, you may decide that the outcome is uncertain and the stakes are high, making representation throughout the course of the case a good idea.
When deciding whether to hire counsel, consider whether there’s a good chance of a better result with counsel than if you were to handle the case yourself. Keep in mind that some convictions will have a negative impact on the minor’s insurance premiums (and possibly the parents' premiums as well), and that a license suspension may make it hard to get to school or to a job. This seemingly-minor charge can actually have quite an impact.
For specifics on the consequences of violating a minor in possession law in a specific state, see the state articles below.
|Alabama||Violators will be issued a fine ranging from $50 to $500 and face up to 3 months in jail. In addition, the Department of Public Safety will suspend the person’s driver’s license for 3 to 6 months and charge a reinstatement fee of $275.|
|Alaska||Violating Alabama MIP laws for the first time may result in probation, community service, and a fine of up to $600. A second offense may include a fine of up to $1,000,48 hours of community service and suspension of your driver’s license for three months.|
|Arizona||Arizona allows people under 21 to be in a bar if they are accompanied by a parent, spouse or legal guardian who is 21 years or older, but the minor is not allowed to order an alcoholic beverage. If you are under 21 and provide a fake id to obtain alcohol illegally from another person, you will be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor offense.|
|Arkansas||Penalties for violating Arkansas MIP laws: 1. You will be subject to a fine of not less than $100 and not more than $500. 2. The magistrate or judge can impose either of the following penalties: A. Require the person under age 21 to write an essay about beer, wine, or liquor. B. Place the person under age 21 on probation|
|California||First offense violation of California MIP law will result in the following penalties: a fine of $250, and 24 to 32 hours of community service that does not interfere with attending school or working at your place of employment.|
|Colorado||First Conviction—You will be ordered to pay of fine of not more than $250 and your driver’s license will be suspended for three months. Second Conviction—You will be ordered to pay of fine of not more than $500 and your driver’s license will be suspended for six months.|
|Connecticut||The MIP laws strictly prohibit the possession of alcohol by minors on both public and private property and the penalties for a first offense include fines of not less than $200 and not more than $500.|
|Delaware||Penalties: Your driver’s license will be revoked for a period of 30 days for the first offense and you will be fined $100. Your driver’s license will be revoked for not less than 90 days or more than 180 days for each subsequent offense.|
|District of Columbia||First Violation: You will be fined not more than $300 and your driving privileges will be suspended for 90 days. Second Violation: You will be fined not more than $600 and your driving privileges will be suspended for 180 days. Individuals who are charged with a first or second violation may have the option to complete a diversion program.|
|Florida||The State of Florida prohibits anyone the age of 21 from possessing any type of alcoholic beverage. First offense is a second-degree misdemeanor and can include a fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail.|
|Georgia||First Offense: A fine of up to $300, Sentenced up to six months in jail, Driver’s license suspension for six months and the offender may be required to complete a drug or alcohol educational program within 120 days of their conviction.|
|Hawaii||Your driver’s license will be suspended for not less than 180 days. At the discretion of the court, you may be allowed to drive to and from your place of employment, school, or school-sponsored activities.|
|Idaho||First Offense: You will be ordered to pay a fine of not more than $1,000. Your driver’s license will be suspended for 90 days to 1 year. You will be required to complete an alcohol evaluation.|
|Indiana||Minors who are 18 and older may have their driver’s licenses suspended for up to one year. Minors who are under age 18 will have their driver’s license suspended for at least 60 days.|
|Iowa||Penalties for underage possession, purchase, or attempt to purchase include: First Offense— A $200 fine. Second Offense—A $500 fine. In addition, your driver’s license may be suspended for up to a year or you may have to complete a substance abuse evaluation. Third of Subsequent Offense—A $500. Your driver’s license will be suspended for up to one year.|
|Kansas||Minors 18 to 21—a Class C misdemeanor offense with a minimum fine of $200 Minors Under 18—classification as a juvenile offender and a fine of $200-$500.|
|Kentucky||In Kentucky, if you are under age 21, you may not: Possess, purchase, or attempt to purchase alcohol. Also, you may not ask another person to purchase an alcoholic beverage for you. Enter a business with a liquor license for the purpose of obtaining alcohol. Use a fake or altered identification to purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol.|
|Louisiana||Anyone who violates Louisiana MIP laws will be penalized as follows: You will be fined not more than $100 and/or, You may be sentenced to not more than 6 months in jail. Your driver’s license may be suspended for 180 days.|
|Maine||First violations. First violations carry a fine of not less than $200 and not more than $400. The judge may—at the judge’s discretion—suspend the minor’s license for up to 30 days.|
|Maryland||A violation of Maryland’s minor in possession law is a civil offense, which subjects the violator to fines and other consequences, but it is not a criminal conviction.|
|Massachusetts||Any person violating the minor in possession laws (including rules applying to persons over 21) may be arrested without a warrant by a police officer and held in custody or jail for up to 24 hours.|
|Michigan||A conviction for violating Michigan’s minor in possession law is a misdemeanor.First conviction penalties can include: a fine not to exceed $100, as decided by the sentencing judge, an order to participate in a substance abuse prevention program ,an order to perform community service, and an order to undergo substance abuse screening/assessment at the defendant’s own expense.|
|Minnesota||Someone who violates any of Minnesota's alcohol-related offenses may be charged with a misdemeanor and may face a fine of up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail. A minor found guilty of violating any of the above laws faces a mandatory fine of at least $100.|
|Mississippi||In lieu of the usual fines and penalties, a trial judge may suspend an offending minor’s driver’s license for up to 90 days and place the defendant on probation subject to conditions the trial judge deems appropriate.|
|Missouri||Any minor who violates Missouri's MIP statutes will be guilty of a misdemeanor and can face up to $1000 in fines and up to 1 year in jail.|
|Montana||In Montana, it is illegal for a person younger than 21 years of age to possess or consume alcohol (with some exception). However, a minor who is merely present at a place where other people have or are selling alcoholic beverages may not be arrested or charged with violating this law.|
|Nebraska||First offense. A violator who is 18 years of age or younger, has a driver’s license, and is a first time violator will face any or all of the following penalties: A fine of up to $500, Up to 3 months imprisonment, Seizure of any driver’s license or permit for 30 days, and Participation in an alcohol education class.|
|Nevada||Nevada prohibits minors from being on the property of any bar or “saloon” where alcohol is sold. A minor who violates this law will be fined up to $500. Any bar owner or “saloonkeeper” who allows a minor to stay on the bar or saloon’s premises will be subjected to a fine of up to $500. In Nevada, it is illegal for any person younger than 21 years of age to misrepresent his or her age for the purpose of obtaining alcohol. Violators will face up to six months in jail and a fine of no more than $1,000.|
|New Hampshire||A minor in New Hampshire is considered intoxicated if he or she has a blood alcohol concentration of .02 percent. Any minor who violates this statute for the first time will be charged with a violation and forced to pay a fine of at least $300 and the court will confiscate any alcoholic beverage found in a violating minor’s possession.|
|New Jersey||The presiding judge will fine violators $250 for a first offense of this type, and $350 for subsequent offenses. The minor’s driver’s license will also be suspended for six months, and the violation reported to the Division of Motor Vehicles.|
|New Mexico||First violations. A judge will impose a fine of up to $1,000 and order the defendant to perform 30 hours of community service. Second violations. The maximum fine increases to $1,000 and the defendant will be ordered to perform 40 hours of community service.|
|New York||Fines. Minors who violate New York’s minor in possession laws may be fined up to $50. Alcohol awareness programs. Violators may be ordered to take part in alcohol awareness programs established under New York state law. Community service. Minors may be ordered to complete up to 30 community service hours. (New York Al. Bev. Con. Section 65-c (3).)|
|North Carolina||Minors who violate the laws against purchase, possession, or consumption; and adults who violate the law against giving alcohol to a minor or allowing a minor to use the adult’s identification to obtain alcohol, will face charges of a Class 1 misdemeanor.|
|North Dakota||This type of violation is considered a class B misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $1,000, up to a year in jail, or both (as decided by the judge).|
|Ohio||For first offenses, the judge may delay ruling on the complaint while the minor enrolls in a diversion program. If the minor successfully completes the diversion program, the judge will dismiss the complaint, and order the minor’s record sealed.|
|Oklahoma||First violations. First violations carry misdemeanor charges. If convicted, violators will be fined up to $500, serve up to a year in the county jail, or both, as decided by the presiding judge. Second violations within one year of a first violation. Violators convicted of this misdemeanor will be fined up to $2,500, serve up to one year in county jail, or both.|
|Oregon||In addition to possible driver’s license suspension (for all violations), second and subsequent convictions are subject to a fine of up to $500 (as decided by the judge).|
|Pennsylvania||First offenses. First offenses carry a fine of up to $250 and license suspension for up to 30 days, as decided by the sentencing judge. Second offenses. The judge will impose a fine of up to $500, and license suspension for up to 90 days.|
|Rhode Island||First offenses. First offenses carry a fine of up to $250 and license suspension for up to 30 days, as decided by the sentencing judge. Second offenses. The judge will impose a fine of up to $500, and license suspension for up to 90 days.|
|South Carolina||Illegal alcohol purchase, possession, or consumption. This type of violation carries a fine between $100 and $200, up to 30 days in jail, or both, as decided by the judge. Violators are also required to complete an approved alcohol prevention education program.|
|South Dakota||Convictions for these violations are Class 2 misdemeanors. Penalties include a fine of up to $500, thirty days in jail, or both (as decided by the judge).|
|Tennessee||This type of violation is a Class A misdemeanor. In addition to possible criminal penalties, a judge may order license suspension. A minor who is convicted for underage possession, consumption, or transportation, may petition the court to destroy the minor’s conviction records after six months from the date of the violation.|
|Texas||A conviction for violating a Texas’ minor in possession law is a Class C misdemeanor, and is punished by a fine of up to $500. Instead of entering a conviction, a judge may place a minor on deferred disposition, wherein a minor will complete between eight and 12 hours of community service; and have that minor’s driver’s license suspended for 30 days.|
|Utah||First violations. First violations that include age misrepresentation are class B misdemeanors. Such violations carry a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both (as decided by the judge). (Utah Code Ann. Section 32B-4-411(1)(a)(i).) Second violations. Violators are guilty of a class A misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or both. (Utah Code Ann. Section 32B-4-411(1)(a)(ii).)|
|Vermont||Violating a minor in possession law carries a civil penalty of $300 and license suspension for 90 days. If a minor fails to pay the civil penalty, the commissioner of motor vehicles will continue to suspend the minor’s license until the fine is paid.|
|Virginia||A violation of Virginia’s minor in possession laws is a Class 1 misdemeanor. A conviction carries a minimum fine of $500 and probation, including at least 50 hours of community service.|
|Washington||A violation of Washington’s minor in possession law is misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, up to 90 days in jail, or both. Minors between 18 and 20 who are convicted of a violation may face an additional minimum fine of $250, at least 25 hours of community restitution, or both.|
|West Virginia||Underage purchase, possession, sale, or consumption. Violations carry a fine of up to $500, up to 72 hours in jail (or a juvenile detention facility), or both (as decided by the judge). The judge may also order up to one year of probation in lieu of jail time for first offenses.|
|Wisconsin||First offenses. A violator will be fined up to $500 for first violations, or if the violator has not committed other offenses under the minor in possession laws within the last 30 months. Second offenses. If the second offense occurred within 30 months of a prior violation, the violator will be fined up to $500, spend up to 30 days in jail, or both.|
|Wyoming||Violating Wyoming’s minor in possession laws is a misdemeanor. (Wy. Stat. Ann. Section 12-6-101.) Violators—both minors and adults—may be punished with a fine of up to $750, up to six months in jail, or both (as decided by the judge).|