Many states have laws concerning alcohol and drugs found in the possession of minors, regardless of whether they were using the substances. These are often called minor in possession, or MIP, laws. Minor in possession laws mainly focus on underage drinking.
Criminal laws about minors in possession vary from state to state. Some states strictly enforce MIP laws and prosecute minors to the fullest extent of the law. In other states, however, a minor in an MIP case may receive probation by entering a court-ordered diversionary program (similar to those offered to DUI offenders), getting medical or mental health help, and staying out of trouble.
MIP Laws: What Are They?
Minors in possession (MIP) is a criminal charge that applies to individuals under the legal drinking age, which is typically 21 years of age in the United States. This criminal offense involves the possession or consumption of an alcoholic beverage by an underage person. Minors may face misdemeanor charges, which are less severe than felonies but still constitute a criminal offense.
State governments created minor in-possession laws to:
- Educate minors about the dangers of drinking and driving
- Get chemical dependency treatment and help for minors
- Involve minors in community service
In California, first-time offenders convicted of MIP violations may have their driver's license suspended for a year. Suppose the minor doesn't have a driver's license. In that case, the court will order the Department of Motor Vehicles not to issue a license until a full year after 1) the minor's conviction or 2) they become eligible to obtain a license.
Other states' MIP laws have punishments that are moderate for the first offense but increase in severity for subsequent offenses. In Missouri, you can be convicted of an MIP violation if you simply appear intoxicated.
The consequences of an MIP conviction can include civil infractions, fines, license suspension or revocation, and even jail time for repeat offenses. A second offense MIP conviction may result in more severe penalties than a first conviction.
Different Categories of Possession
There are three categories of possession of alcohol:
- Simple or actual possession
- Constructive possession
- Possession by consumption of alcohol
In some cases, MIP charges arise from constructive possession, where an individual may not physically have an alcoholic drink but can still be charged if they are deemed to have control or access to the alcohol.
Possession by consumption is also called minor in consumption. A minor in consumption is considered in possession when a law enforcement officer or police officer encounters an intoxicated minor.
You don't always have to be driving to be convicted of violating an MIP law. If you are holding an unopened beer and you are under the state's drinking age, you can still be convicted of an MIP offense. You also don't have to be legally drunk under your state's DUI laws to be found guilty of an MIP charge. Depending on your state's laws, it may be sufficient to prove that you violated your state's MIP laws if you:
- Are younger than the legal drinking age at the time of the citation
- Had alcohol in your possession
- Attempted to buy alcohol
- Drank alcohol
Defenses to Minor in Possession Charges
You may raise a defense against an MIP charge. The validity of the defenses depends largely upon state and local laws. Some MIP defenses include:
- There Was No Alcohol in the Container Held by the Minor: The burden may be on the defendant to show that the container they were holding lacked alcohol (typically when the container indicates alcohol is present in the drink). In some states, where a sealed container is labeled as containing an alcoholic beverage, the label is prima facie evidence that the container includes alcohol. Other factors come into play, so consultation with an attorney is paramount.
- The Minor Legally Consumed Alcohol: Some states border jurisdictions where 19- and 20-year-olds may legally consume alcohol. In Michigan, for example, a 19-year-old may contest an MIP charge by claiming they drank alcohol in Canada, where it is legal. Thus, the underage defendant has an affirmative defense that they consumed the alcohol in a venue where doing so is legal.
- The Alcohol Was Consumed in a Religious Service: If a minor drank alcohol as part of a religious service (e.g., sacramental wine, Sabbath wine), they may be able to defend an MIP charge.
Minor in Possession: Related Resources
Get a Criminal Defense Lawyer's Help with Your Minor in Possession Case
If you or a relative are a young adult who is arrested for being a minor in possession of alcohol or illicit drugs, the consequences to future employment can be devastating. If convicted, this offense can result in a criminal record.
A criminal defense attorney can help you with your case. A criminal defense lawyer can build a strong defense, challenge evidence, and seek reduced penalties — or alternatives to a conviction — such as participation in an education program or completing hours of community service. Your best move is to contact the law office of a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.