Nothing is more important than our children, and many of the laws here in California have been crafted to protect them. California’s “minor in possession” (MIP) statute, for example, makes it a crime for anyone under 21 years of age to possess an alcoholic beverage in a public setting.

How does the law work, what are the penalties for a conviction, and what steps should you take if your child is charged with violating the MIP law? Keep reading for some answers – particularly if you are the parent of one or more teenagers in southern California and have been in this situation where you needed a Orange County juvenile defense lawyer.

In every state, those below the age of 21 cannot drink alcohol legally, and in this state, minors cannot even possess alcohol except in precise and narrow circumstances spelled out by state law.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO CONVICT A CHILD OF AN MIP VIOLATION?

Minors in California can be charged with an MIP (minor in possession) violation for purchasing or possessing alcohol, public drinking, or in some cases for simply holding an unopened container.

To convict a young person for an MIP offense, the state must prove that:

1. The defendant was under the age of 21 at the time of the incident.
2. The defendant was in possession of alcohol.
3. The possession occurred on a street, highway, or another public setting.

An MIP conviction may be penalized with a $250 fine and up to 32 hours of community service. A second or subsequent MIP conviction is punishable with a $500 fine and up to 48 hours of community service.

HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR CHILD CONTEST AN MIP CHARGE?

Don’t accept an MIP conviction as your child’s fate. You should contest an MIP charge with the assistance of an Orange County juvenile defense lawyer. One of these defenses may be used by your attorney to contest the charge:

1. The young person did not possess and was not the owner of the alcohol.
2. The alcohol’s discovery by the police happened during an illegal search and seizure.
3. The minor in possession had called 911 to report that someone required medical attention.
4. The young person was delivering alcohol under instructions from his or her boss, parent, or guardian and possessed it only for that single purpose.

HOW DOES CALIFORNIA’S OPEN CONTAINER LAW APPLY TO MINORS?

A law enforcement officer who legally enters any public location or social gathering may confiscate alcohol in plain sight if it is in the possession of a minor who is not under the supervision of a parent or a legal guardian.

Police officers may destroy any alcoholic beverages seized from a minor when the beverage is in an open container. Unopened containers are impounded for seven working days and then destroyed unless the release of such a container is requested by an owner who is age 21 or above.

If a minor carries open alcohol in a motor vehicle, he or she may be charged with a violation of California’s “open container” law, which makes it illegal to possess an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

HOW ARE OPEN CONTAINER VIOLATIONS PENALIZED?

A young person who is convicted of violating the open container statute will face harsher penalties than an adult who is convicted of the same offense.

If you’re not yet 21 years old, an open container violation is charged as a misdemeanor, and a conviction may be penalized with six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.

WHEN ARE MINORS GUILTY OF DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE?

The DUI (driving under the influence) rules are also somewhat different for those under the age of 21 in this state. The 0.08 percent “legal limit” standard is not used for drivers who are under 21 – instead, it’s a zero-tolerance policy.

Any amount of alcohol measurable by a breathalyzer device is considered evidence of driving under the influence when a driver is under age 21. Drivers under 21 with any measurable BAC level can be convicted and punished with a one-year driver’s license suspension.

Drivers under 21 with a BAC level at or above 0.05 percent can be convicted of underage DUI, an infraction punishable with a fine and a one-year license suspension. Drivers below 21 with a BAC level at or above 0.08 percent may be convicted of standard DUI – just like an adult.

HOW CAN A DEFENSE ATTORNEY HELP YOU AND YOUR CHILD?

If you’re a parent, it is important to understand that your teen’s arrest for DUI – or any other charge – does not mean that your child will be convicted or have a criminal record. A prosecutor has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction.

Your attorney will investigate the charge or charges against your teenager, provide you with sound legal advice, and fight on your behalf to have the charge dismissed or the penalty reduced.

WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU PROVIDE ALCOHOL TO A MINOR?

Selling or providing alcohol to a minor is a serious crime in the state of California. Individuals convicted of furnishing alcohol to a minor can be fined $250 and ordered to perform community service for up to 32 hours.

IF YOU FURNISH A MINOR WITH ALCOHOL, YOU MIGHT ALSO BE SUED

Anyone who sells or furnishes alcohol to a minor – a minor who then drives and causes an accident that leads to someone’s injury or death – may face both civil and criminal penalties.

The host or business may be held liable in civil court for:

1. Injuries suffered by the underage drinker/driver
2. Injuries suffered by anyone who was injured by the underage drinker/driver

Any party that provides alcohol to a minor who then drives and causes an injury may be ordered by a court to compensate the injury victim for all of his or her medical costs, all lost wages and any projected lost future earnings, personal suffering and pain, and all property damages.

However, to prevail with an injury claim in these cases, the injury victim must prove that the furnishing of alcohol was the “proximate cause” of his or her injuries.

GET THE LEGAL HELP YOUR CHILD NEEDS

If your child has been arrested for an MIP violation, an open container offense, driving under the influence, or any other crime in southern California, reach out to an Orange County juvenile defense lawyer who has substantial experience representing underage defendants.

The right attorney will have your child’s case resolved in the best possible manner and as quickly as possible.

Read one of our recent blogs here: JUVENILES AND AGE STATUS OFFENSES (WHAT PARENTS SHOULD KNOW)