Minor in Possession of Alcohol
The “Minor in Possession of Alcohol” law is California’s official state law prohibiting underage drinking. As with most of the United States, the legal age to be able to drink is 21.
The wording of California’s law prohibits possession of alcohol in any public place, or any place that can be accessed by the public such as a restaurant or bar. Technically, a minor isn’t necessarily in violation of the law if they drink within a private residence. However, the owner of or any adults in the residence or business would be opened up to the possibility of being charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor. If you find yourself or a loved one in this position, you should call a bail bondsman to help you get out of jail.
Obviously, if a minor is spotted consuming or holding an alcoholic beverage in a public area, that is enough grounds to charge them. However, they don’t necessarily have to be physically holding the drink in order to be charged. California law has language establishing “constructive possession”, which basically means that if the drink is near the minor and appears to have been under their control at some point, that can be regarded as possession of it. If multiple minors are passing a drink around, they can all be considered to be in joint possession of it.
Penalties For Possession of Alcohol
Possession of alcohol is a misdemeanor for minors, punishable with fines or community service. A minor cannot be incarcerated just for this charge alone, even on multiple counts. It does become part of the permanent criminal record, however.
The fine is $250 for the first charge, and $500 for any subsequent charges. 24 to 32 hours of community service are also ordered for the first charge, and this is upped to 36 to 48 for subsequent charges.
If the minor has a driver’s license, the law also carries a mandatory minimum one-year suspension. If they do not yet have a driver’s license, they are prevented from testing for one for a year. If they are not yet old enough to take the driver’s test, the one-year delay period begins on the day they become eligible. These penalties are multiplied for multiple counts. The minor may also be ordered to participate in a drunk driving program for youths. It is possible to get these suspensions reduced if the minor can show a critical need to drive to get to school, work or medical appointments, however.
Consumption of Alcohol
Thus far, we have assumed that the minor is in possession of alcohol in public and may be drinking it, but is not drunk. If the minor has become intoxicated, that opens up the possibility of new charges.
In addition to possession, a drunk minor can be charged with the standard “drunk in public” law. This charges comes when an arresting officer determines the person is so intoxicated that they cannot exercise care for themselves or present a safety risk to others. Blocking any public spaces such as sidewalks or entryways is also grounds for this charge. Minors do not get a break on this charge. It carries a fine of up to $1,000 as well as up to six months in jail.
Possession in a vehicle and/or drunk driving also makes things much more serious. Even if the minor is not driving or the drink is not opened, possession can also lead to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. And of course, drunk driving is the most serious charge of all. There are special DUI laws for minors, but they are not really any more lenient than those for adults.
Minors who are arrested for being drunk in public, possession in a vehicle or drunk driving may need the services of a bail bondsman if they or their family are not able to post bail.