It's no secret to every teenager and young adult that you have to be
21 before you can legally drink, buy, or own alcohol. Though each state
has its own laws about alcohol, all states require that people be
21 before they can legally purchase alcohol. A person who sells alcohol
to a minor commits a crime regardless of the state, though state laws
differ widely in their details.
- Selling or Providing.
State laws prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors, but “sale” includes a
lot more than simply selling a drink to an underage person. The law
prohibits any form of furnishing or providing liquor to minors,
including when no money changes hands. Courts have ruled that selling or
giving alcohol counts as providing, as does holding a “house party”
where liquor is easily available, or allowing an underage person to
drink from a pitcher that a person of legal drinking age purchased.
The prohibition against selling alcohol to minors includes both adults
under the age of 21 and juveniles (people under the age of 18). For this
reason, many state laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol to “underage
persons” or minors, though the terms are synonymous.
- Mistake of age.
In many situations, minors might try to obtain liquor by using fake
IDs, lying about their age, or through other methods of appearing older
than they are. States approach this situation very differently. In some
states, the law requires the seller to take specific steps, such as
inspecting a buyer's identification and even requiring the buyer to fill
out a declaration of age. As long as the seller takes this step and
still sells alcohol to a minor, sellers can avoid a conviction by
showing they took all the required steps. In other states, selling to a
minor is a strict liability offense. This means that if a seller sold
alcohol to a minor, it doesn't matter what steps the seller took, as any
sale to a minor is prohibited. Still other states allow a mistake about
the buyer's age to factor into a court's decision when it determines
what sentence is appropriate.
- Parents. While
some states prohibit anyone from providing alcohol to a minor, other
states provide an exception for parents or legal guardians. In states
with a parental exception, parents or legal guardians can provide an
underage person alcohol in a home environment as long as the parent or
guardian is present at the time. Similar exceptions are also made for
alcohol used in a religious ceremonies or for medicinal purposes.
states punish the sale of alcohol to minors as a misdemeanor. However,
state laws on alcohol sales to minors differ significantly, and the
potential penalties involved can be very different between one state and
another. Anyone convicted of selling or providing alcohol to a minor
usually faces a range of penalties.
- Jail. Misdemeanor
offenses are defined as those that have a potential penalty of up to
one year in a local jail or state prison. Providing alcohol to an
underage person may result in a jail sentence of up to a year, a much
lighter sentence, or no jail at all. The circumstances of the case and
state law will determine what sentences are appropriate.
- Fines. Fines
are a common penalty for anyone convicted of selling alcohol to a
minor. The amount of the fine varies broadly, but can be as much as
several thousand dollars per violation.
- Probation. In
lieu of, or in addition to, a jail sentence, a court may impose a
probation sentence for a conviction of selling alcohol to a minor.
Probation terms typically last six to 12 months, though they can be
longer. Someone on probation must usually regularly report to a
probation officer and meet other specific requirements as imposed by the
court. Failing to comply with any requirement may result in a court
ordering the convicted person to jail.
- Liquor license revocation.
Establishments and organizations who sell or provide alcohol must have a
state liquor license. When licensed organizations sell alcohol to
minors, either intentionally or unintentionally, they may lose their
liquor license. They may also be subject to other penalties, such as
fines. However, individual state regulations differ significantly about
what penalties licensed organizations can face if they sell alcohol to
minors, especially if they do so unintentionally.
Talk to a Lawyer
alcohol to a minor is a misdemeanor offense, but it can have serious
consequences on your life. You owe it to yourself to talk to a local
criminal defense lawyer as soon as you are charged with any crime.
Because the laws about providing liquor to an underage person are so
different among the states, only an experienced criminal defense lawyer
in your area will be able to advise you about your individual case.