What Is a Minor in Possession (MIP) Offense?

Minor In Possession is one of the most common causes of arrest for Americans under the age of 21. A minor in possession, or MIP, is a criminal offense that occurs when a person is found to be in possession of alcohol before they are of the legal age of 21. MIP can also refer to a minor in possession of drugs or other illicit substances, but most typically refers to the possession of alcohol. MIP laws are designed to discourage underage drinking and therefore reduce rates of adolescent vandalism, disorderly conduct, and driving under the influence. In most states, an underage drinking charge is a misdemeanor; however, MIP laws and punishments vary by state.

What Constitutes “Possession”?

According to the Controlled Substances Act of 1984, there are three common types of minor in possession ordinances:

Actual Physical Possession

A minor is deemed in possession in this situation if they are physically holding an alcoholic drink, either opened or sealed, in their hand.

Possession By Consumption/Internal Possession

In this case, a minor can be deemed in possession if they have consumed an alcoholic beverage. A law enforcement officer doesn’t need to have witnessed the underage person physically possessing or consuming the alcohol; consumption may be established by means of a proscribed blood alcohol content (BAC) level or an officer testimony in combination with a field sobriety test.

Constructive Possession

A minor is deemed in constructive possession if they have access to alcohol in a setting that would indicate they had the intent of drinking. For example, if alcohol is found in the trunk of a car that an underage person is driving or in a cooler an underage person is sitting next to, they would be deemed to be in constructive possession of alcohol because it can be argued that they had the intent of consuming that alcohol.

Exceptions to Possession

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:

  • Educational courses
  • Under the supervision of a parent or guardian at a private residence
  • Religious service or ceremony
  • Employment for a vendor that sells alcohol

Most attorney defenses involve state exceptions when fighting MIP charges.

What Are the Consequences of an MIP?

When a person under the legal drinking age is found to have been in possession of alcohol, punishment can take a variety of forms. Penalties for violating MIP laws vary from state to state but usually include one or more of the following:

  • Revocation of driver’s license (typically for 30 days)
  • Payment of fines
  • Enrollment in diversion or alcohol education programs
  • Offense on criminal record
  • Community service
  • Possible incarceration

Factors that can influence punishment include the offender’s age, whether the minor was legally intoxicated at the time off the offense, and past history of possession and/or other illegal behavior. Most states’ MIP laws have punishments that are relatively moderate for first offenders, and then increase in severity for subsequent convictions.

Defenses against MIP charges can be raised, but the validity of the defense depends largely on the state and the local laws where the citation is issued.

Underage Drinking and MIP State Law Examples

No State Makes Distinctions Between Different Kinds Of Alcohol In Their Minor In Possession StatutesUtah is one the strictest states when it comes to MIP laws and penalties. A minor in Utah may not buy, attempt to buy, possess, or consume alcohol. Violators will receive a misdemeanor, pay up to $1,000 in fines, and have his or her license suspended up to one year for first convictions and two years for second and subsequent convictions. Violations that include an age misrepresentation, i.e. providing a fake ID to buy alcohol, can carry up to $2,500 in fines and 6 months in jail.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, is one of the most lenient of states in terms of MIP laws and consequences. A minor in Wisconsin may also not buy, attempt to buy, possess, or consume alcohol; however, the state has a long list of exceptions to these rules compared to others. Wisconsin additionally has significantly lesser punishments in relation to other states, as first-time violators will only receive a civil citation and pay a fine of up to $500. A second violation can incur $500 worth of fines and 30 days in jail, and further subsequent violations can then carry up to $1,000 and 90 days of jail time.

Be Smart: Don’t Drink Underage

Minor in possession charges can lead to serious consequences. You can be punished with time in jail and have a criminal record for the rest of your life. If you, or your child, is under the age of 21 and struggling with an alcohol addiction, talk with a treatment provider today and discover your rehabilitation options.

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