For many youths, college is an exciting time in their life. They get the opportunity to meet new people and enjoy their newly found independence. However, due to the excitement and peer pressure, many minors engage in unlawful conduct. Students end up violating Arizona laws regarding alcohol as minors. Arizona has some of the most stringent alcohol-related laws in the U.S. A minor possession or consumption charge commonly abbreviated as MIP or MIC could lead to severe legal consequences. It could lead to a conviction, which will impact many areas of your life and prevent you from meeting your goals. If you face minor in possession or consumption charges, you should contact an experienced attorney immediately. Phoenix Criminal Attorney can offer you the best legal representation and help you fight the charges.
Minor Possession Charge in Arizona- A.R.S. 4- 244(9)
Arizona law makes it a crime for any person below 21 years to possess alcohol. You can face charges for merely possessing alcohol under the possession statute. Even if you haven't consumed or even opened the alcohol, you can still face charges. Alcohol includes a glass of wine, a glass of beer, or a bottle of liquor. The statute outlines that any person below the legal drinking age should not receive, buy, or possess spirituous liquor. This criminal charge is common in Arizona courts, especially in Phoenix. Many minors violate this statute without even realizing it.
Many minors, especially students, do not know that an unopened beer could see them arrested. Most of them realize this fact when it is too late. There are different forms of possession as outlined by Arizona law:
- Actual possession
- Constructive possession
- Sole or joint possession
If you had direct physical control over the alcohol, you are in actual possession of the alcohol. You are in actual possession if the police find alcohol in your hand, a bag you are carrying, or in your clothing. You would be in constructive possession of alcohol if you exercised control or dominion over the alcohol, even if it wasn't in your person. In the case of construction possession, you could be acting alone or through another person. This type of possession may apply if you have alcohol in the dorm, your bedroom, or your vehicle.
It is often difficult for the prosecutor to charge you with constructive alcohol possession due to plausible explanations. The possession of alcohol can be either sole or joint. If you are acting alone and the police find you in possession of alcohol, this is sole possession. If you share the alcohol possession with another person or a group of people, then you are in joint possession of the alcohol. Joint possession is often more complex for the prosecutor to prove than sole possession.
History of the Legal Drinking Age in Arizona
Everywhere in the United States, it is illegal for persons below 21 years to consume alcohol. Different states have in place statutes that dictate underage drinking and driving. While some states have a lower alcohol content threshold for drivers below 21 years, Arizona has zero-tolerance laws for underage drinking and driving. A driver will face charges if found with any alcohol content in their blood. Underage drivers face charges for merely being in possession of alcoholic beverages even if they don't consume them.
The legal drinking age in Arizona hasn't always been 21 years. Arizona lowered its drinking age in 1971 like many others states. Many states across the U.S. lowered the legal drinking age in the 60s and 70s due to the cultural changes occurring in the country. The then U.S. President Reagan signed into law the Uniform Drinking Age Act in 1984. According to this Act, all states in the U.S had to raise the minimum age of buying alcohol to 21 years. Failure to comply with the Act would lead to a 10% loss of federal funding for highways. After the passage of this Act, Arizona raised the legal drinking age to 21 in 1985.
Consequences of Arizona Minor In Possession or Consumption Violations
What are some of the potential consequences for violating Arizona's MIC or MIP laws?
A violation of A.R.S. 4-246(B) is a class one misdemeanor under Arizona law. The penalties include jail time of not more than 180 days. The judge may also subject you to 3 years of probation. You could incur up to $4,575 in surcharges and fines. If you are a first–time or a second-time offender, the judge is more likely to recommend:
- Community service
- Alcohol treatment
Even if jail time is unlikely for a first or second offense, you should be concerned about the criminal conviction that will remain on your record. This conviction will show up whenever someone performs a background search on you. It might affect your ability to secure a job or obtain professional licensing. A conviction for minors in possession or consumption will remain on your record permanently because Arizona doesn't have expungement laws. The typical consequences for a MIP (Minor in Possession) case include:
- A criminal conviction that will remain on your criminal history
- Alcohol counseling and education/classes
- A jail time of up to 180 days
- Probation of up to 3 years
- Fines not exceeding $4,575
- Paying restitution if applicable
- Community service
- The court could also suspend your driving privileges according to A.R.S. 4-246(D). For a person below 18 years, the court may suspend your driving privileges for up to 180 days for a first-time violation.
When facing MIP charges, it helps to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to help defend your rights and guide you through the legal procedure. An attorney will explore all the available options, including avenues for acquittal or dismissal of your criminal charges. Ensure that you choose an attorney with vast experience in handling MIP cases.
A MIP conviction could also affect other areas of your life. For instance, it could have a negative impact on your scholarships, extra-curricular activities, financial aid, employment, and campus housing, among others. Many education institutions and related programs have distinct rules that govern alcohol possession and violations.
Penalties for Minor in Consumption Offense
You will face a Class 2 Misdemeanor if you are convicted of a MIC. You could also face MIP charges if you were also in possession of alcohol. MIP is a class one misdemeanor. When charged with a MIC only, the penalties include:
- A jail time not exceeding 120 days
- Fines not exceeding $1,000
- Probation of up to two years
- A possible suspension of your driver's license
Arizona law imposes harsh penalties for minors in consumption. Even a sip of alcohol could land you into trouble, earn you a permanent record, and affect your career and education.
When Minors Obtain Alcohol Illegally
It's common for persons below 21 years to use fake IDs to obtain alcohol illegally from another person or a bar. This is an offense that attracts Class 1 Misdemeanor charges. The penalties for this crime include a jail time not exceeding six months and a fine of up to $2,500.
If you are below 21 years, you will face Class 3 misdemeanor charges if you ask another person to sell, purchase, or give you alcohol. The penalties for a Class 3 misdemeanor include a jail time of up to 30 days in county jail and a fine not exceeding $500.
You will face Class 1 misdemeanor offense charges if you are below 21 and you use another person's ID or a fake ID to gain access into a place licensed to sell alcohol. The penalties for a Class 1 misdemeanor offense include a jail time of up to six months and a fine not exceeding $2,500.
Above the penalties outlined, the court may withdraw or suspend your driving privileges for up to 180 days.
When the law enforcement officers find you with a fake ID, they will confiscate the ID immediately. You can then face minor in possession charges if you have alcohol in your person or your vehicle. The main difference between MIP (minor in possession) and MIC (minor in consumption) is that even if you are 100% sober, you can still face MIP charges. However, you will only face MIC charges if you have consumed alcohol. Even if you fail in obtaining alcohol with a fake ID, you will still face charges because having a fake ID is a crime on its own. Possessing a fake ID is a misdemeanor offense. You will face aggravated penalties if the police arrest you with a fake ID alongside alcohol.
When Minor Enter Licensed Establishments that Sell Alcohol
It is a crime for any licensed business owner who sells or dispenses alcohol to allow a minor under 21 in their establishment. The only time that a minor can access these establishments is if they are accompanied by their guardian, parent, or a spouse who is of legal drinking age. The minor may also enter the establishment if they are an employee working there. The violation of this law could lead to a jail time not exceeding four months in county jail. It could also result in a penalty of not more than $750.
Drinking in Unlicensed Places
Especially when hosting prom and graduation parties, many parents organize parties for their teens in their home. As a parent, you may provide alcohol to your children in your home. However, when you organize a party, it is a different story. According to Arizona law, you may be guilty of Class 1 misdemeanor if you are of legal drinking age and an occupant of unlicensed premises, and one of the following applies:
- You allow a gathering on your premises, consisting of two or more persons below the legal drinking age who aren't members of your family, and you don’t reside with them permanently.
- You are aware that one or more of the persons you have hosted on your premises are under the legal drinking age and are either in possession or consuming an alcoholic beverage or spirituous liquor on the premises.
Therefore, if you host a party with minors who aren't members of your family and you are aware that a minor is in possession of alcohol, you will face Class 1 Misdemeanor charges. The penalties for this offense may include a jail time of up to 6 months. You may also face a fine of up to $2,500.
Will you be guilty if you do not supply alcohol to the minor, but another person does?
The answer to this question will depend on the unique circumstances of the party. The law states that you are guilty if you knew or should have known that minors were drunk or in possession of alcohol on your premises. If you open the door and some teens walk in with beer packs, you can't state that you were unaware of the minors' alcohol possession.
When it comes to MIP and MIC crimes, parents face a challenging situation and must balance the law requirements and the desire to please their children. While facing the realities of underage drinking, parents have a constant role in protecting themselves and the minors from the legal consequences of minors in possession or consumption.
Exceptions to Arizona's MIP Laws
According to A.R.S. 4-226(3)(a), it's allowable for a minor to possess alcohol for medicinal use. A minor can also possess alcohol for religious use as outlined by A.R.S. 4-226 (4) and A.R.S. 4-249. Under each circumstance, it should be evident that the alcohol doesn't endanger the public's safety or health. However, it's rare for these types of exceptions to arise in MIP cases.
Jury Trial for MIP
It's important to note that defendants aren't subject to a jury trial for MIP. Instead, a case litigation and decision takes place before a single judge. Courts in Arizona do not consider the possible consequences of a MIP conviction adequate to call for a jury trial. This is despite the fact that you face up to 180 days in prison for violating MIP laws.
Fighting Minor in Possession Charges in Arizona
What are some of the most common MIP defenses in Arizona? Below are some of the defenses that you can use to fight minor in possession charges in Arizona:
The Police Violated Your Constitutional Rights
Whether you are guilty of a crime or not, the constitution shields you from unlawful police conduct. The police must not subject you to unlawful searches, coercive questioning, and unlawful arrests and detainment. The police should have a warrant to search your home or your vehicle unless there is a specific exception. Any exceptions must be supported by the necessary information. If the police or any government agency violates your constitutional rights, you can use this violation as a basis for challenging, suppressing, or dismissing your criminal charges. The common violations that police commit are:
- Miranda rights violations
- Unreasonable suspicion
- Illegal detainment
- Lack of a probable cause
- Coerced statements
You Possessed the Alcohol for Medical or Religious Use
As long as you are below 21 years, it's illegal for you to consume alcohol in public. The law allows you to be in a bar if you are accompanied by your legal guardian or parent, who is 21 years or above. However, even in this case, you aren't allowed to order an alcoholic beverage. There are several exceptions to the MIP law that you can use to fight the charges:
- You can fight the charges by stating that you consumed the alcohol for a legitimate medical reason. You must also prove that your actions did not endanger public health or safety.
- You can also state that you consumed liquor for a religious ceremony and that the alcohol consumption did not endanger the public’s safety and health.
Illegally Obtained Evidence
If the police used illegal means to obtain evidence against you, you could use this as a basis to fight the charges. Any testimony or evidence resulting from unconstitutional government conduct can't be used against you in court. With the help of an attorney, you can negotiate to have this evidence dismissed.
You Didn't Know You Possessed Alcohol
You can fight a minor in possession or consumption charge by stating that you weren't aware that the substance you possessed contained alcohol. To be charged with a violation of MIP or MIC laws, the prosecutor must prove that you were aware of your actions or that you had criminal intent.
The Alcohol Didn't Belong To You
Another person may have placed the alcohol in your vehicle or your bag. In this case, you can state that the alcohol belonged to another person. This defense particularly applies when there are several occupants in a vehicle. The police will have a hard time proving that the alcohol belonged to you and not to the other vehicle occupants.
It Was a Mere Smell of Alcohol
When the law enforcement officer suspects that you are intoxicated, they will look for signs of intoxication. The most common sign of intoxication is the smell of alcohol. However, a MIP charge requires more proof than the mere smell of alcohol. You can explain that the smell of alcohol was from other substances like mouthwash.
Find a Minor in Possession or Consumption Attorney Near Me
If you face minor in possession or consumption charges in Phoenix, you should contact the Phoenix Criminal Attorney. We have experienced attorneys who understand Arizona's MIP and MIC charges. We will be glad to evaluate your case and discuss your options. Contact us at 602-551-8092 and speak to one of our attorneys.