Massachusetts Minor in Possession of Alcohol Charges and Penalties
NOLO Local Defense Lawyers
Enter your zip code to find local criminal defense lawyers.
A minor in Massachusetts may not purchase, attempt to purchase, or arrange for someone else to purchase alcoholic liquor on the minor’s behalf, with few exceptions (see below). (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34A.) The law also prohibits minors from knowingly possessing, transporting, or carrying alcohol. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34C.) It is also illegal for minors to make false statements about age (or induce others to do so) in order to obtain alcohol. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34A.)
Exceptions to the Rule
Massachusetts recognizes three exceptions to the general rule prohibiting minors from possessing or consuming alcohol:
- Employment. An establishment licensed to sell alcohol may employ minors between 18 and 21 years old to handle, sell, knowingly possess, transport, or carry—but not consume—alcohol. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34 &34C.) Such an establishment may also employ minors younger than 18 years old, but these employees may not directly handle, sell, mix, or serve alcohol. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34.)
- Accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Minors who are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian may knowingly possess, transport, or carry—but not consume—alcohol. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34C.)
- Children, wards, and spouses on private property. A person older than 21 may procure alcohol for a child, grandchild, ward, or spouse while on property owned or controlled (for example, rented) by the person older than 21. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34.)
A conviction for violating Massachusetts’ minor in possession law is a misdemeanor. (235 ICS 5/6-20(f).) Penalties vary by type of conviction.
- Possession, transportation, or carrying alcohol. This type of conviction carries a fine of up to $50 (for a first offense) or up to $150 (for second and subsequent offenses). The sentencing court will report the conviction to the registrar of motor vehicles. The registrar will subsequently suspend the defendant’s license (or right to operate a motor vehicle) for 90 days. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34C.)
- Attempting, arranging, or purchasing alcohol; using false identification or misrepresenting age to obtain alcohol. These convictions carry a fine of up to $300, and the sentencing court will report the conviction to the registrar of motor vehicles. The registrar subsequently will suspend the defendant’s license (or right to operate a motor vehicle) for 180 days. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34A.)
Minors may not use fraudulent identification to obtain alcohol, nor may someone furnish fraudulent identification to minors. This offense is a misdemeanor, separate from the crime described above, and carries additional penalties. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34A &B.) Convictions are punishable by either or both of the following:
- a sentence of up to three months in jail, as decided by the sentencing judge, and
- a fine not to exceed $200. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34B.)
Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor
It is illegal in Massachusetts to furnish alcohol to a minor. This includes supplying, giving, or providing alcohol while having reason to know that the recipient is a minor. This rule applies both to people serving alcohol in licensed establishments, and to people allowing minors to possess alcohol on their private property. A violation of this law is a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine up to $2,000, up to a year in jail, or both (as decided by the sentencing judge). (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34.)
However,a person providing alcohol who relies on government issued identification in ascertaining the age of the person requesting alcohol is presumed to have used due care in ensuring that the person being identified is older than 21. This presumption is rebuttable, which means that if, despite the identification, there is evidence that would reasonably lead the provider to believe that the person requesting alcohol was a minor (and the provider served the alcohol anyway), the provider may nonetheless be subject to penalties as described above. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34B.)
State Authorities May Demand Identification in Licensed Establishments
State authorities may require any person—employees or customers–in an establishment licensed to sell alcohol to provide identification (including name, age, and address). Any person providing a false name, age, or address; or refusing to supply such information in response to such a request, is guilty of a misdemeanor and can be fined up to $500, as decided by the sentencing judge. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34B.)
Arrest Without Warrant
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 (excluding Sundays and legal holidays), until a formal complaint is filed against them. (Ma. Gen. Laws Ann. 138 Section 34B.)
Getting Legal Help
Because local procedures and attitude towards the Massachusetts minor in possession law vary, it is a good idea to consult with a lawyer who is familiar with how these cases are handled in your area. This will give you a better chance of achieving the most favorable outcome under the unique circumstances of your case.