A minor younger than 21 in Ohio may not buy, share the cost of, possess, consume, handle, or be under the influence of alcohol, with few exceptions (see below). (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.63.) Additionally, a minor younger than 18 may not purchase, order, pay for, possess, or consume any “low-alcohol beverage.” A “low-alcohol beverage” includes any brewed or fermented drink that contains either no, or less than one-half of one percent of alcohol by volume. However, this does not include soft drinks, like root beer or ginger beer. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.01.)
It is also illegal for anyone to knowingly provide false information about a minor’s or someone else’s name, age (or other identification), in order to obtain alcohol for a minor. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.633 & 4301.634)
Exceptions to the Rule
Ohio recognizes four exceptions to the rule prohibiting minors from handling, possessing, or consuming alcohol. These exceptions also apply to minors younger than 18 and to “low-alcohol” beverages.
- Employment. An establishment licensed to sell alcohol may employ minors older than 18 to handle or sell alcohol, but only in sealed containers for retail or wholesale purposes, such as stocking shelves, bagging, or loading alcohol. These minors may also handle empty open alcohol containers in connection with cleaning or bussing tables. Such licensed establishments may employ minors older than 19 to serve alcohol in open containers in a restaurant, hotel, or club. However, no minor may serve alcohol across a bar. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.22(3).)
- Adult family members. Minors may possess and consume alcohol under the supervision of a parent, adult spouse, or legal guardian. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.69.)
- Physicians. A physician may sell or furnish alcohol (or substances containing alcohol) in the regular course of that physician’s practice. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.69.)
- Religious participation. A minor may possess and consume alcohol for an established religious purpose. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.69.)
Violations of Ohio’s minor in possession laws will be handled through the juvenile court, and may be considered criminal offenses. 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. To learn more about diversion options for a first time offense, see Diversion & First Offender Programs.
Sealing a record means that the complaint will not be public record; however, because minors are eligible to complete a diversion program only for first-time offenses, if there are subsequent charges, court officials may examine the minor’s sealed record to determine whether the minor has already taken advantage of a diversion program.
If the minor fails to complete the program, or for second and subsequent offenses, the judge will hear the case and rule on the complaint, and the minor will be responsible for the applicable fines or other consequences. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.69(E)(2)(a)&(b).)
Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor or Allowing Possession or Use on Property
It is illegal in Ohio to furnish alcohol to a minor, except under the circumstances described above (see “Exceptions to the Rule”). This includes selling, buying for, or furnishing alcohol while having reason to know that the recipient is a minor. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.69(A).) This rule applies both to people serving alcohol in licensed establishments, and to people who knowingly allow minors to possess alcohol on their private property (including rental housing). (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.69(B).)
Similarly, it is illegal to rent out a hotel room, or other accommodation (like a cabin or campground spot) knowing that a minor will use the accommodation to consume alcohol.
Minors are also prohibited from trying to gain access to such accommodations by using false identification or other fraudulent means. However, renting or providing accommodations as above is acceptable if the alcohol is given to the minor by the minor’s parent, adult spouse, or legal guardian; and the alcohol is consumed in the presence of that adult. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 4301.69(C)(1).)
Getting Legal Help
Because local procedures and attitude towards the Ohio minor in possession law vary by community, 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.