In many states it is a crime for a minor simply to have alcohol or drugs in their possession, regardless of whether they were actually using the substances. These crimes are regulated under “Minor in Possession” (MIP) laws, which may vary by state.
For example, some states prosecute minors to the full extent of the law. Other states treat MIP charges differently and allow the minors to participate in court-ordered programs to rehabilitate the minor and prevent further criminal activity.
All MIP laws have the same basic aim- to educate minors on the dangers of drinking and drug use, and to help them obtain treatment for dependency. Minor in possession laws also apply to several other criminal acts, such as minor in possession of a gun or firearm.
In many states a minor dos not need to be legally intoxicated in order to be found guilty of minor in possession of alcohol or drugs. Some states may arrest a minor simply if they appear to be intoxicated. MIP laws may be enforced if:
- The person was younger than the legal drinking age in the state at the time of the citation, AND
- they were in possession of alcohol, or
- had attempted to purchase alcohol, or
- drank alcohol or appear to be visibly intoxicated
Also, the minor in question does not need to be driving in order to be found guilty of MIP. Simply holding an unopened beer container while under the legal drinking age can lead to MIP or even DUI charges, depending on the situation.
Finally, you should be aware that MIP laws can vary widely from state to state. Acts committed in one state may not constitute MIP charges, but if they are committed while the minor is visiting a different state, it could lead to MIP charges.
Some of the legal consequences attached to MIP charges include:
- Monetary fines
- Possible jail time
- Mandatory participation in a court-ordered rehabilitation or substance abuse educational program
- Participation in community service activities
MIP punishments are typically moderate for first-time offenders. However, repeat convictions can lead to increasingly severe penalties with each offense.
Also, in some states MIP violations can lead to a loss of driving privileges. For example, in California, a first-time MIP offender will have their driver’s license suspended for one year. If the minor does not yet have a driving license, the court may order the DMV to place a hold on issuing the license until one full year after the conviction.
Minor in Possession laws can be somewhat difficult to defend against. This is because each state has different laws and the minor often does not actually need to be drunk to be found guilty. However, there are some defenses to MIP laws, including:
- No alcohol in the container: If the minor’s container contained no alcohol, it may constitute a defense. However, the burden is on the defendant’s party to prove that no alcohol was involved
- Legal consumption of alcohol: Many states contain exceptions to the legal drinking age such as family member or specific location exceptions
- Religious rites or services: Protections may exist if the alcohol was consumed as part of a religious ceremony (i.e., Communion wine, etc.). However, religious rites and ceremonies are very narrowly defined by state statues
Violations of minor in possession of alcohol or drugs laws can lead to very serious legal consequences. These consequences can often have lasting affects even after the child reaches adulthood. If your child is facing MIP charges, you should consult with a criminal lawyer immediately. An attorney can explain your specific state’s MIP laws to you, and can advise you on any possible defenses.