Maryland Minor in Possession of Alcohol Charges and Penalties

A minor in Maryland may not possess, consume, or provide false documentation of age to purchase alcoholic liquor, with few exceptions (see below). (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-114(a)(1)&(2).) It is also illegal for minors to make false statements about the minor’s or someone else’s age in order to obtain alcohol. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-113.) Minors possessing false proof of age (such as a fake identification card) in circumstances that would reasonably indicate that minor’s intention to illegal obtain alcohol, are also liable for violating these provisions. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-115.)

Exceptions to the Rule

Maryland recognizes three exceptions to the general rule prohibiting minors from possessing or consuming alcohol.

  • Employment. An establishment licensed to sell alcohol may employ minors who, during the course of employment and within regular working hours, may possess or control—but not consume—alcohol. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-114(a)(1).)
  • Adult family members. Minors may possess and consume alcohol that is provided by an immediate family member who is an adult, as long they possess or consume that alcohol on the adult family member’s private residence or surrounding property. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-114(b)(1)(i).)
  • Religious participation. A minor may possess and consume alcohol as a participant in a religious ceremony. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-114(b)(1)(ii).)

Penalties

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. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-119.) The consequences depend on the minor’s age.

  • Minors younger than 18. The case will be treated as a juvenile delinquency action under Title 3, Subtitle 8A of the Maryland Courts Article. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-119(f)(2).) The juvenile court judge has wide discretion to deal with juvenile offenders, including imposing counseling, community service, and fines. It is possible to ask the court to seal or shield these records from later public inspection. You should speak with your local court clerk about the procedure for sealing or shielding such records.
  • Minors between the ages of 18 and 21. Violators may be fined up to $500. For subsequent violations, the sentencing judge will impose a fine of up to $1,000. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-119(h)(1)(i)&(ii).)

Violations involving false identification. For these violations (such as attempting to purchase alcohol with a false driver’s license showing that the minor is over 21), in addition to the above fines; the sentencing court will notify the Motor Vehicle Administration. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-119(k)(ii)(3).)

Suspicion of Consumption

Maryland puts some specific restrictions on police officers who stop minors whom they suspect of illegal possession. Officers may not make such a stop unless they have actually observed the minor in possession of the alcohol (for example, drunken behavior alone won’t justify a police stop on suspicion of possession of alcohol). (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-114(a)(2)(b)(2).)

Failure to Provide Proof of Age or Identification

When an adult or minor is being cited for violating any of the rules discussed in this article, the citing authority is entitled to request proof of age or identification. Failure to provide proof of age or identification is a separate misdemeanor, and carries a fine of up to $50 (as decided by the sentencing judge). (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-120.)

Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor

It is illegal in Maryland to furnish alcohol to a minor. This includes supplying, giving, or providing alcohol while having reason to know that the recipient is a minor. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-116.) This rule applies both to people serving alcohol in licensed establishments, and to people allowing minors to possess alcohol on their private property (including rental housing). (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-116 & 10-117.)

A violation of this law is a misdemeanor. Such a conviction carries a fine of up to $2,500 for a first conviction, or up to $5,000 for second and subsequent convictions (as decided by the sentencing judge). (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-119(h)(2)(i)&(ii).) However, adults older than 21 may, on their own private property, furnish alcohol for immediate family members who are minors without violating these rules. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-114 & 10-117.) Similarly, adults may also provide or furnish alcohol to minors as part of religious ceremonies without violating the rules described above. (Md. Crim. Law Section 10-117.)

Getting Legal Help

Because local procedures and attitude towards the Maryland 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.

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