Minor in possession of alcohol laws criminalize the possession and consumption of alcohol by individuals who are under the legal drinking age. The purpose of these laws is to strictly punish underage drinkers and deter illegal alcohol consumption.
Underage Drinking in the United States
Underage drinking is a significant issue in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost half of all teens have consumed alcohol by age 15. By age 18, more than 70 percent have had at least one drink. Almost 5,000 minors die every year, and over 190,000 are injured, due to alcohol-related accidents and injuries.
For this reason, most states have criminalized the possession of alcohol for minors. These laws identify minors who are illegally consuming alcohol and attempt to interrupt these behaviors before they lead to more significant health or legal issues down the road.
Defining Minor in Possession
A minor may be charged as a minor in possession of alcohol even if their attempt to purchase alcohol was unsuccessful.
The crime of minor in possession of alcohol does not limit criminal activity to those minors who actively consume alcohol. Although they are the primary targets of the laws, minors may also be criminally charged because they attempted to buy alcohol but were ultimately unsuccessful, or because they were in possession of alcohol even if they did not intend to drink it. For instance, a teenage boy could be prosecuted as a minor in possession of alcohol even if he was merely taking the alcohol to deliver it to someone else. When a minor attempts to buy alcohol from another adult, the adult may also be held liable for selling or supplying alcohol to minors.
Punishments for Minors in Possession
Since minor in possession laws seek to deter minors from obtaining and consuming alcohol, the punishments for this crime are wide-ranging and often focused on rehabilitation. Possible punishments can include:
Suspension of a driver’s license for up to a year, or a hold on issuing a license to a minor who has not yet received one;
Enrollment in educational classes on the dangers of alcohol and drinking and driving;
Enrollment in alcohol dependency treatment for those minors who may need it; and
Minor in possession of alcohol is typically charged as a misdemeanor. However, if a teenager has repeated convictions or a broader criminal record, harsher punishments may be imposed. It is important to check the laws of your state to determine the implications of multiple convictions.
Most states focus on rehabilitation of minors rather than strict punishment and may allow a minor to avoid criminal prosecution by completing a court-ordered rehabilitation and prevention program.
In some states, if a minor agrees to participate in education programs and rehabilitation, he or she may be able to avoid a criminal charge entirely. In these states, a minor may opt to participate in a court-ordered program geared towards rehabilitation and prevention. If the program is successfully completed, the minor can avoid further criminal consequences for his or her actions.