Underage drinking and drug use is an ongoing problem in the United States. Arizona takes a zero-tolerance approach by criminalizing the mere possession of either alcohol or drugs by minors. Conviction on minor in possession (MIP) charges can have serious immediate as well as longer-term consequences. Because the penalties for MIP can be significant, it is important for minors to understand what the law prohibits and to have a strong defense when facing minor in possession charges. Trust a criminal defense attorney who has been defending clients in Arizona on alcohol and drug-related charges for over 35 years. Call Chuck Franklin directly at 480-545-0700.
The Problem of Minors and Alcohol Consumption
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol consumption by minors is a serious public health problem in the United States. Alcohol is the restricted substance most often used by minors. A CDC study of high school students in 2019 found that 29% of the students surveyed had consumed alcohol within the past 30 days and about half of those who consumed alcohol had binge drank – that is, boys had consumed 5 or more drinks on one occasion and girls had consumed 4 or more drinks on one occasion.
The major concerns about underage drinking are that it can interfere with the ability to learn, inhibit healthy physical and social development, and lead to increasingly more risky behavior. There is a recognized association between underage drinking and later adult alcohol abuse. The goal of the juvenile justice system is to help minors get back on track before they become adults and may face significantly harsher criminal consequences.
Arizona Minor in Possession Laws
In Arizona, it is against the law for a person under the age of 21 years to possess or consume alcohol. The Arizona Revised Statutes make it unlawful … for a person under the lawful drinking age to buy, receive, have in the person’s possession or consume spirituous liquor. Minors can also be charged for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia – which includes possession of prescription drugs that they do not have a prescription to use.
How a Minor Can ‘Possess’ Drugs or Alcohol
With regard to determining if a minor is in possession of drugs or alcohol for purposes of violating the statute, the following types of possession may be found:
- Actual possession – The drugs or alcohol are in a minor’s hand or found on their person – including a bag they may be carrying.
- Constructive possession – The drugs or alcohol are in a location that the minor has control over – such as a locker or a vehicle.
- Sole possession – The drugs or alcohol are possessed by only the minor.
- Joint possession – The drugs or alcohol are possessed by the minor and others.
Penalties for Minor in Possession Violations
A minor in possession violation is classified as a misdemeanor which is the classification in Arizona for less serious crimes. There are three classes of misdemeanors. Minor in possession violations are class 1 misdemeanors which are the most serious class of misdemeanors. Class 1 misdemeanors are punishable by:
- Fines – up to $2,500
- Jail – up to 6 months
- Probation – up to 3 years
- License suspension – minors under age 18 can also lose their driving privileges for up to 6 months
First-time offenders can often receive probation along with drug or alcohol education or treatment and community service. There may also be the possibility of deferring prosecution subject to completion of a probation period and no further violations. A successful deferred prosecution results in dropping the criminal charges and avoiding a criminal record.
Minor in Consumption Violations
A minor who is found in possession of alcohol may also have been consuming the alcohol but ‘possession’ and ‘consumption’ may be charged separately. A minor who is found to possess alcohol may not have consumed it. A minor may be found to have consumed alcohol without any physical evidence of possessing it. A minor in consumption offense (without possession) has the lesser penalty of a class 2 misdemeanor and the following possible consequences:
- Fines – up to $1,000
- Jail – up to 4 months
- Probation – up to 2 years
- License suspension
Consequences of a Minor in Possession Conviction
A minor in possession charge may seem insignificant but a conviction results in a criminal record that can have a negative impact on future plans as a minor gets older and continues into adulthood. A criminal record from a minor in possession conviction can create problems and may even limit opportunities for:
- Education – scholarships, financial aid eligibility
Defenses to Minor in Possession Charges
When facing minor in possession charges for drugs or alcohol in Arizona the charges need to be taken seriously and aggressively defended to try and minimize the impact on a minor’s future. There are some circumstances under which a minor may legally be in possession of alcohol or is not guilty of possession. Some possible defenses to MIP charges are:
- Beverage possessed was not alcohol – A beverage must contain at least one-half of 1% alcohol to violate the law.
- Minor did not ‘possess’ the alcohol – Possession requires proof that a minor knowingly possessed the alcohol.
- Minor was in the ‘mere presence’ of alcohol – Being in a place where others possess alcohol is not, in itself, possession.
- Possession was legal – Arizona allows exceptions for minors to possess and consume alcohol if it is done for either medical or religious purposes.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Minor in possession charges can often be successfully defended to minimize the stigma of a criminal conviction. The charges must be taken seriously and defended with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Chuck Franklin Law has defended over 4,000 clients on alcohol and drug-related charges. Call Chuck Franklin directly at 480-545-0700 for a free consultation to learn more about your legal rights.