Alcohol plays a role in the commission of countless crimes otherwise not considered "alcohol-related." But four offenses in particular - driving under the influence (DUI), minor in possession of alcohol, open container and public intoxication - are directly referred to as alcohol-related crimes. DWI, or driving while intoxicated (DWI), is the most serious of the four and carries the most severe penalties. Minor in possession laws are meant to educate young people about the potential dangers of drinking. Open container laws, which vary by state and local ordinance, serve several purposes including the prevention of drunk driving. Laws prohibiting public intoxication are intended to prevent offenders from disturbing or harming others in public.
Public Intoxication Defenses
Most state public intoxication laws require you to be willfully under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs to be in violation of the law. There are several defenses available to these charges that could result in a dismissal or reduction of your charge. These defenses include that you were not willfully intoxicated, you were not in a public place, you were able to safely care for yourself, or you did not interfere with or obstruct any public way.
Open Container Laws
Open container laws refer to laws regulating open alcohol containers in public or in vehicles. These statutes are left up to states and local municipalities to legislate. However, penalties are pretty standard. For an open container in public, if there are no extenuating circumstances or prior incidents, the penalty may simply be a small fine. However, if you have been stopped for driving under the influence charge (DUI) and an open container was found in your vehicle you may face enhanced charges.
Minor in Possession (MIP) Violations and Losing Your Driver's License
Since the passage in 1984 of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (23 U.S.C.A. § 158), all states have had to raise their minimum drinking age to 21. Driving is considered a privilege that can be taken away if you are in violation of the law. It is unlawful for a minor to possess or consume alcohol, or to have any measurable concentration of alcohol as determined by a breath, blood, or urine test. Sometimes referred to as "consumption by a minor," "minor in possession," or "MIP," a misdemeanor conviction can result in losing your driver's license, substantial fines, and even jail time.
Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor
Any adult who aids or encourages a child to behave in an unruly manner or participate in delinquent activities is guilty contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Furnishing alcohol to a minor -- that is, giving alcohol to or purchasing it for a person under 21 years of age -- is a misdemeanor in many states. Different states disagree over whether the behavior must actually lead to an act of delinquency and whether mens rea (a “guilty mind”) is required for a guilty verdict.
Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney
You may want to consider hiring a criminal defense attorney if you don't understand your rights or alcohol-related laws, what you need to do, or the consequences you face. You also might want legal representation if you are in a profession (or plan to be) that requires bonding or in which any criminal conviction might prevent you from getting or keeping a professional license. If you don't know the requirements, then you need expert advice before handling the case yourself.
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