Minor in possession (MIP) is a criminal charge dealing primarily with underage drinking. The legal age for drinking alcohol is 21 in all states, but some states may have limited exceptions relating to lawful employment, religious activities, or consent by a parent, guardian, or spouse. Most states have laws prohibiting those under age from even possessing alcoholic beverages. MIP laws are not uniform and vary greatly by jurisdiction, but convictions generally require two elements:
Note that you don't have to be driving under the influence or even legally drunk to face MIP charges. Simply holding an alcoholic drink, even an unopened one, can be enough for a MIP citation.
Recently, many states have enacted laws that prohibit the “internal possession” of alcohol by those under 21 years of age. Internal possession literally means that they have ingested alcohol, even if they were not seen doing it.
These charges typically require law enforcement to provide evidence of alcohol in the minor’s body, but they do not require proof of possession or consumption. These laws are often used for breaking up underage drinking parties. So minors that are not drinking or holding an alcoholic beverage, but have been drinking, can be cited.
Sentencing for minor in possession charges also varies by jurisdiction. Some states impose harsh penalties for MIP convictions. Some common punishments include fines, community service, probation and even jail time.
Driver's license suspensions are also common. Some states will suspend a driver's license upon a first offense while some will suspend a license only for multiple MIP offenses. Other common punishments include required alcohol education courses and substance abuse counseling.
Texas, for one, has relatively strict MIP laws. It has potential fines of up to $500, community service, alcohol awareness classes and up to 30 days' driver's license suspension upon a first offense. In Nevada, a first offense can result in jail time of up to 6 months and a $1,000 fine.
In Wisconsin, on the other hand, a first MIP conviction will typically only result in a fine of up to $500.
As stated above, some states have exceptions to minor in possession laws. These specific exceptions vary by jurisdiction and are typically denoted within state statutes. Some examples of when minors can legally possess alcohol include:
If a minor is charged with possession of alcohol, a lawyer may try to establish one of the exceptions above, or they may choose to go for other defenses, such as:
Keep in mind that even those under the age of 21 have legal rights. They do not have to answer questions that might incriminate them, and they have the right to seek legal counsel. A lawyer will go over the details of a MIP case to determine:
An experienced criminal defense attorney may help get charges reduced or dismissed and/or can argue for lighter sentences.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified minor in possession lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local minor in possession attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.