Underage drinking laws and other criminal statutes punish minors who are illegally in possession of alcohol (these are sometimes called "minor-in-possession" or MIP laws). Related laws punish older people who sell or serve alcohol to minors. This article looks at minor-in-possession and underage drinking laws and potential punishments for offenders. (For more information on what happens when a minor commits a crime, check out Nolo's The Juvenile Justice System area.)
What Are Minor-in-Possession (MIP) and Underage Drinking Laws?
The legal drinking age in all states is 21. Under most states' minor-in-possession or MIP laws, when a person under the legal drinking age is found to be in possession of alcohol or legally intoxicated, punishment can take a number of forms, including:
- revocation of a driver's license (usually for at least 30 days)
- payment of fines
- enrollment in alcohol education programs, and
- community service.
To get more in-depth information on various juvenile related crimes, see
Factors that can influence the punishment that's handed down include the offender's age, whether the minor was legally intoxicated at the time of the offense, and whether the minor has a history of minor-in-possession offenses or anything else on a criminal (or juvenile) court record.
The law in most states also makes it a crime for people of legal drinking age (parents, friends, store clerks, or anyone else) to give alcohol to minors or to buy alcohol on behalf of someone who is under the legal drinking age.
Underage Drinking and Minor in Possession: Case Examples
Example 1. In view of a liquor store clerk, teenager Eddie Haskell solicits adults to buy a six pack of beer for him. Ward Cleaver agrees to do so. Haskell hands Cleaver the money and Cleaver purchases the beer and gives it to Haskell. Haskell is guilty of violating minor-in-possession laws and Cleaver and the store clerk are guilty of providing Haskell with alcohol.
Example 2. Jim and Margaret Anderson throw a graduation party for their 17-year-old son Bud. The Andersons serve beer and wine, figuring that if Bud and his friends are going to drink alcohol, better that they do it in the Anderson home with the Andersons present. One of the teenage guests leaves the party and, while driving under the influence, strikes and severely injures a pedestrian. Margaret and Jim are guilty of providing a minor with alcohol.
Underage Drinking and Minor in Possession: State Law Example
Texas: Minors who purchase or consume alcohol are guilty of a Class C misdemeanor. A first offense is punishable by a fine up to $500, enrollment in an alcohol awareness class, performance of up to 40 hours of community service, and loss of a driver's license. Sale of alcohol to a minor by either an adult or a minor is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and confinement in jail for up to a year, or both, and automatic driver's license suspension.
For more in-depth information for your state, see Minor in Possession of Alcohol: Laws & Penalties.
Learn More and Get Help
For everything you've ever wanted to know about the criminal justice system -- from searches to sentencing -- get The Criminal Law Handbook by Paul Bergman and Sara Berman (Nolo). And if you need more personal help after an arrest or other run-in with the criminal justice system, use Nolo's trusted Lawyer Directory to find an experienced criminal law attorney near you.