Minor in Possession (MIP)

Minor in Possession Laws

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:

  • The person being charged is under the legal drinking age at the time of the citation
  • The person being charged drank, possessed or attempted to buy alcohol

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.

Internal Possession Laws

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.

Sentences

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.

Exceptions and Defenses to Minor in Possession Laws

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:

  • When a parent, guardian or spouse over 21 is present
  • When the minor is at a private residence
  • As part of a religious service
  • As part of medical treatment
  • As part of employment for a vendor that sells alcohol
  • As part of educational courses

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:

  • A lack of alcohol in the container
  • No actual or constructive possession, meaning that while alcohol was present, the minor did not possess it or know of it
  • Involuntary intoxication, meaning that a person was drugged
  • Forced intoxication, meaning the minor was threatened into drinking alcohol

Your Rights After a MIP

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:

  • whether the minor actually violated the law,
  • whether law enforcement followed proper procedures for citation, and
  • whether an affirmative defense may come into play.

An experienced criminal defense attorney may help get charges reduced or dismissed and/or can argue for lighter sentences.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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