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What Happens With a Minor In Possession?

The legal drinking age in the United States is 21. Minors are prohibited from purchasing or acquiring alcohol, or attempting to buy alcohol prior to reaching that age. It is also against the law for someone under the age of 21 to be in possession of an alcoholic beverage.

Possession of alcohol by someone under the age of 21 is known as “minor in possession.” Generally, a “minor” is someone who is under the age of 18 but a minor in possession (MIP) offense refers to people under the age of 21.

The police may find a minor in possession of alcohol when breaking up a party, responding to a call for a drunk and disorderly person, or making a traffic stop where the driver is suspected of driving under the influence.

What Does Possession Mean in an MIP Case?

Possession includes actual possession of an alcoholic beverage. However, possession can also include constructive possession, or possession by consumption. Constructive possession means the individual has the ability to control possession, even if it is not in the individual’s possession at the time. For example, a teenage driver with a bottle of wine in the trunk may be considered to have constructive possession even if it was out of reach at the time.

Consumption of alcohol may also be considered possession. Evidence of illegal consumption of alcohol could include witnessing the minor drinking, visible intoxication, the smell of alcohol on the minor’s breath, or a breath test showing a positive blood alcohol content.

What Are the Penalties for Minor in Possession?

An MIP can be an infraction or a misdemeanor criminal charge. In most cases, an MIP charge is an infraction and the penalties may include:

  • Paying a fine
  • Driver’s license suspension
  • Alcohol education
  • Community service

When a minor is in possession of alcohol while driving, it could include an underage DUI. Most states have a zero-tolerance policy towards underage drinking and driving and a blood alcohol content of 0.02% or higher may be enough for an under-21 DUI. However, if the driver has a BAC of 0.08% or higher, the driver can be charged with a regular DUI, with the possibility of jail time.

Arrests for an MIP are common for college students. Colleges and universities may have separate administrative penalties for students with drug or alcohol violations, including probation or loss of scholarship money.

Do Possession Charges Go Away?

If you are charged with an infraction, there may be no criminal conviction. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, it may permanently stay on your criminal record. There may be ways of getting a charge cleared from your record, including having your records sealed or getting the charges expunged. Sealed records are sealed from public view but law enforcement may still have access. Expunged records are destroyed.

Does an MIP Show Up on a Background Check?

A minor in possession infraction should not result in a criminal conviction. A simple background check that looks for convictions should not show an MIP infraction. However, a more in-depth background check could show the arrest and infraction. If you want to make sure your criminal record is clear, talk to a criminal defense attorney to understand your options.

How Do You Deal With an MIP?

A minor in possession charge is pretty common but it can still be a major hassle. Even if it is not charged as a crime, it may still result in a suspended license and a negative mark on your record. Many people end up accepting the penalties without challenging the evidence. Even innocent people can sometimes plead guilty because they are concerned that fighting the charges could make the penalties worse.

There are several ways to deal with an MIP without admitting guilt. Some defense strategies may include:

  • Minor was transporting the alcohol for a parent
  • Minor did not know alcohol was present in the vehicle
  • The alcohol was in the possession of someone else
  • The police violated the minor’s constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

In some states, there is a “family exception,” where minors may be able to possess or consume alcohol in a private residence when accompanied by a consenting parent or guardian. Other exceptions may include possession or consumption of alcohol in connection with a religious ceremony.

Some states may also provide immunity for minor in possession violations when the minor is reporting a crime or seeking help because of a medical emergency. These exceptions are intended to encourage young people to seek help if necessary, including reporting sexual assault or where someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning.

Should I Hire an Attorney for a Minor in Possession Violation?

A minor in possession charge may not seem like a big deal but it can have long-term consequences. An MIP charge can show up on your criminal record. This may require you to declare the prior arrest and explain the situation. Even if it is not a major crime, it may not leave a good impression when you have to explain a prior criminal arrest. You may be able to avoid a criminal conviction with the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

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