Tennessee Minor in Possession of Alcohol: Laws & Penalties

A minor in Tennessee may not buy (or attempt to buy), possess, transport, or consume alcohol; or knowingly provide false information to obtain alcohol. (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 57-3-412(a)(3)(A),(a)(5)(A),&(b)(2)(c).) It is also illegal for adults to purchase alcohol for, or provide alcohol to minors; or to knowingly allow minors to consume alcohol on the adult’s property. (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 39-15-404(a)(4).) There are few exceptions to these rules (see below).

Exceptions to the Rule

Tennessee recognizes two exceptions to the general rule prohibiting minors from possessing or consuming alcohol.

  • Employment. A minor older than 18 may transport, possess, sell, or dispense—but not consume— alcohol as part of that minor’s employment. (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 57-3-412(a)(3)(A).)
  • Religious ceremonies. Minors may possess and consume alcohol for religious ceremonies, when the alcohol is administered by a priest or minister in accordance with the practices of that religious denomination or sect. Adults who provide alcohol to minors as part of religious ceremonies will not be convicted for violating the law against furnishing alcohol to a minor. (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 1-3-113(b)(2).)

Penalties

The consequences of violating Tennessee’s minor in possession laws depend on the violation.

Illegal alcohol purchase, attempt to purchase, possession, or consumption. 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. The court must approve such a petition, so it is worth asking your local court clerk about the procedure for filing such a petition. (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 57-3-412(a)(5)(B)&(C)(i).)

Misrepresenting age. A minor who misrepresents the minor’s age to buy or consume alcohol can be charged with a misdemeanor. In addition to criminal penalties, a minor younger than 18 may face license suspension, a fine of up to $50, and at least 20 hours of community service, as decided by the judge. Minors between 18 and 20 will be fined between $50 and $200, and may also face license suspension for up to one year, and between five and 30 days in jail, as decided by the judge. (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 57-3-412.)

Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor

It is illegal in Tennessee for an adult to furnish alcohol to a minor, or to knowingly allow a minor to consume alcohol on the adult’s property. (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 39-15-404(a)(4).)

Purchasing alcohol for a minor is a Class A misdemeanor. For first offenses, violators will be fined between $25 and $500, and between $50 and $1,000 for second and subsequent offenses. (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 57-3-412(a)(4).)

A violator who provided alcohol or allowed alcohol to be consumed on the violator’s property will also have to perform 100 hours of community service, and possibly face suspension of driving privileges. However, a violator can apply for restricted license, which the court may grant at its discretion. (If the violator does not have a license, the court may increase community service to 200 hours.) (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 39-15-404(d).)

Defendants may defend themselves from these charges if the adult reasonably believed that the minor was over 21, or if only a di minimus—a small, insignificant—amount of alcohol was consumed by the minor(s) on that adult’s property. (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 39-15-404(c).)

Getting Legal Help

Because local procedures and attitude towards the Tennessee minor in possession laws 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.

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