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 referred to as "minor in possession" or "MIP" laws.
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 be able to receive probation by entering a court-ordered diversionary program (similar to those offered to DUI offenders), getting medical help, and staying out of trouble.
MIP Laws: What Are They?
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. If the minor doesn't have a driver's license, the court will order the Department of Motor Vehicles not to issue a license until a full year after the minor's conviction.
Other states' MIP laws have punishments that are moderate for the first offense, but increase in severity for subsequent convictions. In Missouri, you can be convicted of an MIP violation if you simply appear intoxicated.
You don't always have to be driving to be convicted of violating a MIP law. If you are holding an unopened beer, and you are under the state's drinking age, you can still be convicted of a MIP offense. You also don't have to be legally drunk under your state's DUI laws to be found guilty of MIP. 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 time of the citation; and
- Had alcohol in your possession; or
- Attempted to buy alcohol; or
- Drank alcohol
Defenses to Minor in Possession Charges
Defenses against MIP charges can be raised, but the validity of the defenses depends largely upon state and local laws. Some MIP defenses include the following:
There Was No Alcohol in the Container Held by the Minor: The burden is on the defendant to show that the container they were holding lacked alcohol.
The Minor Legally Consumed Alcohol: Some states allow 19 and 20 year olds legally consume alcohol. In Michigan, for example, a 19 year old may contest a MIP charge by claiming they drank alcohol legally in Wisconsin or Canada where it is perfectly legal for them to drink alcohol.
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 a MIP charge.
Minor in Possession: Related Resources
Get Legal Help with Your Minor in Possession Case
While so many of us may have possessed alcohol as minors, most of us were fortunate enough not to get caught. If you or a relative is arrested for being a minor in possession of alcohol or illicit drugs, the consequences to future employment can be devastating. Your best move is to get in touch with a local drug crime lawyer as soon as possible.